Awe and Wonder : Part Seventeen

Awe and Wonder : Part Seventeen

Ananias and Sapphira

1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
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?
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.’
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’
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, and 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 and buried her beside her husband.
11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
(Acts 5 v. 1 – 10)

This dramatic and tragic story, which Luke offers as a warning, can again be contrasted with Old Testament passages which highlight the awesome holiness of the Temple, of the Ark of the Covenant, of those places which represent the presence of God, the Holy One – a place of fire, of purification, of holiness. For example 2 Samuel 6, where one of the guardians of the Ark of the Covenant reaches out to steady it, touches it (which is forbidden) and immediately dies, or Achan in Joshua 7 who keeps for himself some of what is dedicated to the Lord, and loses his life.

What Luke appears to be saying through these early chapters is that the new church, the gathering of God’s Spirit-filled people, is the living embodiment of the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies – God’s people are now the living temple, with the Spirit of Jesus living in them.

This is both wonderful and fearful (in an awe-filled way), as any sinfulness, any deceit, any dishonesty has no place in the holy presence of God. Ananias and Sapphira could have acknowledged their dishonesty, repented, sought forgiveness, but instead, when challenged stood by their lies. Truly tragic consequences for them (and their loved ones), and a stark warning to the early church, to remain pure, to seek holiness and truth, and to live lives of integrity, in particular in the face of a growing persecution.

‘Be holy, as I am holy’, says the Lord.

Purify my heart
let me be as gold, and precious silver
Purify my heart
let me be as gold, pure gold

Refiner’s fire
my heart’s one desire
is to be holy – set apart for You, Lord
ready to do Your will.

Phil Gough