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 and 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 and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and 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, 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.
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.
13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
I included these pictures to give a feel for the incredible numbers of people involved in this story. 3000 baptized, their numbers being added to daily, more and more people joining them. These were big crowds! And when we add the disciples to the crowded streets… and crowded temple… well, it may look a little different than we’ve imagined it.
And we seldom see artist’s renderings of the temple full of people. While the picture I used is actually a depiction of the temple during a Jewish holiday with the priests standing on the steps outside the Holy of Holies, it fuels my imagination to picture what it must have been like when the apostles were released from jail and showed up in the temple courts preaching.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
LOOKING GOOD LOUIS!
The chapter begins with a couple trying to look good. They wanted to appear as if they were giving everything they’d received for selling some property, while actually keeping a little for themselves. They didn’t have to sell the property, or give all the money; but their deceitful sin involved wanting to look good to everyone. They wanted the apostles to regard them highly, like Barnabas. They wanted a high standing and to look good in the community. Obviously, it didn’t work. Looking good, Billy Ray? What is that you said? Oh, you got struck down by God and now you’re looking super dead. Boom! (couldn’t help it)
NO ONE DARED, NEVERTHELESS, MORE AND MORE WERE ADDED
After Ananais and Sapphira died, it says that great fear seized all who heard. Ok, do you know where I’d be if God struck dead everyone who lied?
Answer: I’d right be right here writing, alone, to myself, because you’d all be dead. Ha ha ha.! … Ha… ha… ?
What? Heard that one already?
Do you see the contradiction in these two statements? No one dared join them, but their numbers still grew. How? If no one will dare join a church where you get struck down for lying, how did it grow? Answer: people didn’t just ‘hang on’; come for the meal and leave uncommitted. Those who didn’t give their lives to Jesus as Lord stayed away. But the disciples kept spreading the word, convicting people of sin, demonstrating indestructible lives and many people kept on getting inspired and converted. The church was growing with real conversions of disciples, not swelling by adding bored or insincere attendees to the ranks.
GO STAND IN THE TEMPLE COURTS
Imagine what the temple was really like. Especially with 600,000 people already living in Jerusalem; add the pilgrims and merchants and travelers coming and going all the time and you begin to get the picture: the temple was seldom inactive and usually full of folks. Imagine the dismay of the leaders when they heard that the brothers were free and out there with ALL THOSE PEOPLE; telling them about Jesus! And the crowd was listening. So the captain and his men had to carefully extract the brothers from the crowd in order to prevent a riot if they did it wrong and then take the apostles back to a place that was called the Hall of Hewn Stones; a room where the Sanhedrin would meet. That room would have had a door leading to it up and off the left hand corner of this picture. That’s where, with stiff, phony smiles on their faces, the captain and his officers led the apostles. Through a packed, shoulder to shoulder crowd of attentive people.
YOU MIGHT BE FIGHTING GOD
You know about Gamaliel and his reasoning. Time will tell if something is of God’s idea or a man’s idea. And if God is supportive of a thing, then that’s a thing you best not fight. But even after good old Gamaliel convinced the court to not kill the apostles, the high priest still ordered the brothers to be flogged. Seldom has the world seen a more brutal torture than being whipped with a ‘cat o’ nine tails’. Braided into the ends of the leather strips, which were frayed into 9 claw like ends, were shards of glass and sharp metal hooks. When the whip popped on a person’s back the flesh would be shredded, and eventually even the bones chipped and exposed. And so it was, that with backs bloody and ripped open, the apostles left the beating; not with groans or shouts of anger, but with rejoicing.
With each chapter that we read we see a continual transformation in the lives of these early disciples. What began as an attempt to simply obey the Lord the best they could is becoming more and more an amazing accomplishment. Resolute, having endured threats and now a bloody beating, they refuse to stop preaching; yes, from house to house, they go through every open door with the gospel of Jesus. But that’s not all. They also go back to the very place they were just arrested: the temple courts. Every day. Right under the nose of the High Priest, they keep on working the crowd and telling them Jesus is Lord.
How’s our attempt going? What are we attempting? And do you know how you’ll ever know if your attempt is truly accomplished.
You’ll hear these words, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Father in heaven, thank you for giving us this time to read and pray together. You know how spread out we are; from one side of the country to the other. And you know what we’re trying to do. You know all the obstacles we must overcome and how challenging this is for us. And how we really do want to turn the world upside down for you.
And you know we’re actors (hypocrites) by trade. We’re supposed to make ourselves ‘look good’ to an audience. But Lord, we’re asking you to help us to be authentic in our real lives and to not just want to ‘look good’; to help us to ‘make it our goal to please’ you for real.
And we’re asking you to help us as we do this performance. We’re asking you to help us to be authentic; to not try to be people we’re not. But to play these characters that we’re reading about as if they were us. Because they were all just people; thrown into an extraordinary life, attempting to do something never done before. Help all of us as we face this extraordinary challenge to bring our fears, our faith, our passions, our hearts to this play; so that we can be authentic and to help people remember the Lord.
It’s in His name that we pray…
BTW, if anyone knows where Basilio Golden is (Gamaliel from 1987 “Upside Down” ) please give him a huge hug from me. What a voice!