A Journey Thru Acts 11: God Is Not Tame (5:1-11)
We continue in this our 11th Sunday digging into the book of Acts. We are trying to build on the 53 sermons from 2016, our foundations series, where we dug into the Bible to understand what it means to truly elevate God, elevate Christian community, and elevate others (non-Christians). So now through the end of June we are digging into Acts to answer the question, “What do we do NOW? What is the LORD building on the foundation of this local church? What does the Bible say the church is supposed to be and do? Not what does the suburban American culture say, but what does the Bible say?”
Acts 5:1-11 (NIV)
5 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 & 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 & died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, & carried him out & 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, & 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 & buried her beside her husband.
11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
So much gold to mine from this passage. Here are three big-picture take-a-ways:
1. Sin is worse than we think.
To some, God’s response here seems harsh, unfair, an over-reaction…
because we don’t realize how horrific sin is.
Sin isn’t just coloring outside of the lines; it is attacking God with our crayon.
Sin is against God Personally, not just against His list of rules on the wall.
If we look at sin from our perspective, the only “fair” responses to sin will be our own responses. If we look at sin from the LORD’s perspective, the only fair responses to sins will be His responses…
Genesis 6:3-6: 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years”…5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
Notice the Word that God uses: “contend.” This is the word we use to describe a boxer that wants to challenge the champion: the boxer is called “the number 1 contender.” It means to fight, to challenge, to try to defeat. That is what we do when we sin (any sin!)—we contend with God and His right to be solely in charge of our lives.
Psalm 51:3-5: For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
That is, sin isn’t just a mistake, a failure to do what is right. It isn’t just wrong (though it is that!), it isn’t just breaking a rule (though it is that!)—it is our attempt to break God…or at least break His right to be in charge of us.
Sin is rebellion against God, it is treason, it is an assassination attempt against Him & His role as God-being in charge of our lives. When we sin, whether we know it or not, we say, “In this moment, I’m doing what I want, I am in charge of me, I am my own boss, I am king of this moment, this choice, this situation. I am electing me as self-president and I will be sitting in the oval office for a few seconds or a few decades to sign some executive orders.”
- If we did that at work or school, what would happen? Even if you think it’s not a big deal, try wearing whatever you want at work or at school (in ways that are against the stated dress policy); trying taking as long a lunch as you want, try punching in and punching out when you feel like it, try showing up to class on whatever day and time you want that class to be…all of these will eventually bring about you being fired or expelled or simply failing out of school, all because you did some “small” things according to your desires, all because you decided to be in charge, not under your boss/manager/professor/teacher but over them in these ways.
On some level, all of these situations are about more than the actual deed; at the root they are acts of defiance, of being in charge. If this behavior would lead to serious consequences with earthly institutions, we shouldn’t be shocked that it would have even more serious consequences with the God of the universe.
Let’s continue to look at sin from God’s perspective:
Genesis 4:2-7: Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you [MASTER you], but you must rule over it.”
Needless to say, Cain didn’t listen to the LORD, and in THE NEXT VERSE Cain murdered his brother Abel. This is what happens when we treat sin lightly…sin doesn’t just want to toy with us (or to be OUR toy!), it wants to master us, to have us. We fool ourselves when we think we can dabble in sin in one area of our lives but not have it invade & take control of other areas of our lives. Sin is not neutral like Switzerland but invasive and oppressive like Nazism in the 1930/40s. We treat sin like a cute little tiger cub that we can control & play with; it grows into a 600 pound man-eater that plays with us at first & then devours us…
Matthew 24:4-14: 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Sin is so serious that, if left un-checked & unrepented of, it will cause church-attenders to turn away from the faith, to betray Christians, and for their love to grow COLD…That is what happens when we treat sin lightly, loved ones…nothing less than that…why won’t that happen to you…to me? It will if we treat sin like it’s “no big deal” or “just a mistake.”
Sin must be pulled up at the roots by God Himself or else it will overgrow and ruin the entire field. We must ask Him to transform us to weep over our sin–even if we consider some of them “small.” We must confess & turn from our sin and receive His amazing promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse [purify] us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). That is what will keep our wickedness from increasing and causing our hearts to turn cold–the word “wickedness” here carries with it a sense of growing/increasing/spreading like mold. If left untouched it will destroy, not stay in one little corner of our lives.
These are just some of the many reasons why God reacted the way He did to Ananias & Sapphira’s sin, and it is the mercy of God each moment that He doesn’t respond to us this same way. Great is His faithfulness!
(For more on this, please click HERE)
2. God is not tame (and He is not seeking our approval).
Many people get uncomfortable and worried with passages like this—“how do I explain this to my non-Christian friends?! How do I explain this to ME?!” Loved ones, we don’t have to “EXPLAIN” passages like this, as if God needs us to defend Him, as if He has said/done something inappropriate and we are the PR specialists that need to spin-doctor the situation so He doesn’t get any bad publicity. We are to be His witnesses, not His lawyers. How do you protect a lion? You don’t…it doesn’t need our protection.
There are many passages like this in the Bible for a reason–God is not hiding Who He is but is revealing His character. He is faithful and reliable but not predictable; He is good and loving but not tame. He does not handle situations the way we would–praise His name for that! We are in a terrible situation if we find that the Lord Jesus seems to do and think and say just what we would do and think and say…
But we unwittingly have tried to tame God, to tame and declaw the Lion of the tribe of Judah: if we ever introduce people to the Lord Jesus, we do so as if He is a lion at a zoo, safely behind a cage and a pit, no danger to anyone, no chance of harm, just look from a distance, so beautiful, moving on to the next exhibit in the zoo of our lives…
We either ignore these passages (like asking your spouse to cover up a part of their face that you don’t like) or change them to make God seem safer, more tame (like watering down medicine–it cannot heal that way). Without realizing it, we commit the ultimate sin: we are making God in our image instead of God making us in His. We must never forget our tendency—even for born-again Christians—to subtly create a false god that looks and acts and believes like we do, that agrees with us.
Isaiah 46:8-10: “Remember this, keep it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16: 14 “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’
But we have the mind of Christ.”
May God help us to trust Him, for His Word to change us not for us to change His Word.
With what we face each day—spiritual forces of evil against us (Ephesians 6), our own tendency to sin, & other intimidating challenges—do we want a tame and declawed and defanged lion, a god who looks & acts like us and who plays by our ever-changing set of rules, our rules of engagement? Or do we want the wild and untamable Lion of Judah who is BIGGER & BETTER than us & is all-powerful, Who acts on His unchanging set of rules, His holiness & righteousness, regardless of the “approval ratings” from His constituents? Do we want the LORD to do what is right, or to do what we want?
3. Fearing God is an important part of our relationship with the LORD.
Not terror, but reverence and awe. Not hiding from Him in terror like Adam & Eve,
but coming near Him in reverence and taking off our sandals like Moses.
Hebrews 12:28-29: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” [Deuteronomy 4:24]
In a court of law, 99% of people make the conscious choice to not mouth-off or get sarcastic with the judge—the judge has the ability to fine you, hold you in contempt of court, and curtail your freedom. Even when we don’t like the verdict the judge gives, the vast majority of people act and speak with the utmost respect in a courtroom because of the authority and power of the judge…he/she is simply not to be messed with. At all!
God wants to teach us to treat Him the same way, even when we don’t like/agree with what He says in His Word, what He does in our lives, the verdicts He renders toward us or others.
This is one of the weaknesses of the evangelical or non-denominational church in the U.S. today (and there are many strengths!): we often don’t know about the fear of the LORD. God has blessed us to focus on the approachability of God, of coming to Christ Jesus as you are…but we do not also focus on reverence for God, being in awe of Him, that wisdom that causes us to flee from sin because we don’t want to cross God or disrespect Him. So we are good at high-fiving Jesus but not taking off our shoes in His house.
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.
Exodus 18:21: But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
Exodus 20:20: Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
Exodus 34:5-7: Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Leviticus 25:17: Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.
- Oh loved ones, we talk about wanting to be kinder & more loving to others. If that truly is important to us, then we will cry out to the LORD to teach us to fear Him Biblically. Then we will start to not take advantage of others…
2 Chronicles 26:3-5: Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother’s name was Jekoliah; she was from Jerusalem. 4 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.
Psalm 40:3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.
[Many want to skip #2 & go from #1 to #3!]
Not just the Old Testament, though—the New as well! 19x in NT:
God-fearing occurs 9x in Acts alone!
Look at the Lord Jesus saying this–I’ve never seen this verse as a Facebook meme but it is just as true and important as anything He has said!
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
To Biblically fear God is to be filled with both love for God &
a deep respect/reverence/awe for God;
- If we only have love for God without deep reverence and awe and respect, Jesus simply becomes a pet or mascot that we keep around when needed or convenient but that we easily discard/push aside/move on from in times of intense difficult or rich blessing. In this case, Jesus is like dessert, VERY nice but NOT necessary for survival.
- If we only have a deep reverence and awe and respect for God without love, Jesus becomes a terrifying Presence that we stay away from and only approach with reluctance and terror. We treat Him like a ferocious dog that we might wave at but that we walk by QUICKLY on our way home from school…
Thus, a Biblical fear of Jesus helps us to make 2 similar promises for 2 different reasons:
“Because You are my Savior, Jesus, with Your help I will learn to only drink from Your amazing love, grace and Truth to quench my soul, to be satisfied! Because it HONORS You, I will obey You, place my faith in You, follow You.” .
A Biblical fear of Jesus also says, “Because You are my King and Lord, Jesus, with Your help, I will learn to never dare to drink from sin to quench my soul, to be satisfied! Because it DISHONORS You, I will not disobey You, I will not reject You, I will not abandon You.”
(And when we do sin/disobey, a Biblical fear of Jesus helps us to take personal responsibility for our sin, to apologize/repent to Jesus immediately when He reveals to us what we have done and thus to receive His amazing forgiveness and cleansing!)
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.”
In other words, Biblical fear helps us run to Jesus and say, “I won’t miss out on You!”
Biblical fear also helps us run to Jesus and say, “I won’t mess with You!”
The fear of the LORD that grew in the early church didn’t make them miserable, it made them joyful and powerful and courageous in the LORD…read the rest of Acts and you will see what a church is like that fears the LORD…it is a beautiful thing indeed…
(For more on this, please click HERE)
Oh loved ones, the grace of God does not mean we can do whatever we want. God’s response to Ananias & Sapphira’s sin shows that. Sin is just as terrible in the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament, and we are to flee sin & fight against our desires to sin even MORE after we have surrendered to Christ.
- “Should a king’s clemency & mercy
be used by his subjects as a reason to rebel?” Thomas Watson.
- Sin is to be fought against, not toyed with; sin is to be executed, not taken in as a pet: “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:4).
We must never doubt God’s goodness, fairness, rightness—everything He does is perfect, even if we don’t understand and especially if we don’t agree. satan doesn’t just want us to break laws…he wants to break our trust in God’s goodness. the devil will always try to get us to doubt God’s goodness in His commands and Truth; that’s what the evil one did in the garden to Eve, caused her to doubt the wisdom of God’s command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil, tempted her to think that the LORD was being tightfisted and selfish and tempted her to act in disobedience based on the lack of trust in God’s character. the devil tempts us in the same ways today…
Please soak in Psalm 136 this week…it gives a list of some of the actions of God in the past, and some of the actions are those which people today would be offended by. But do you know what phrase occurs in between each and every one of those perfect and righteous and good and holy actions of God? “His love endures forever.” Over and over again. It is the love of God that causes His actions, even the actions that don’t seem loving to us now. No matter what your flawed opinion is, trust God’s perfect Truth instead; no matter what your imperfect perspective is, trust’s God’s perfect Truth instead. “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, His love endures forever.”