Acts Chapter 5
Does God change? Is God more "forgiving" in the New Testament than he is in the Old Testament? The Bible clearly tells us that God's nature does not change (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, James 1:17) even if he changes his strategy in dealing with men. With the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of humanity, God instituted a system of grace AND justice far superior to the system of animal sacrifice. However, God is the same God. He hates sin just as much and when he chooses to act, he carries out punishment with the same swift justice he always has. We see a very clear example of that in this chapter of Acts.
Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and his wife, both decide to sell some land and give a portion of the money to the church, while claiming to give the full amount. The problem with this action is not that they kept some of the money for themselves, but that they lied in order to be given credit and praise from other people. Why did God do this? When others in Israel were stealing, raping or killing, why would God make an issue out of this "little white lie"?
Well, we don't know the mind of God. Let's be clear on that point. But we can at least make some educated guesses. Proverbs 3:12 tells us that God disciplines those he loves and considers his children. Hebrews chapter 12 expands on that idea. While all humanity will ultimately be judged by the same standard, it makes sense that God would spend more time disciplining his followers. After all, they know better and even claim to love God, right? More than that, they represent God to the world(2 Corinthians 5:20)! What does it do for the message of Christ when the world sees Christians involved in financial scandals or hypocrisy of any kind? A painfully easy question to answer in today's culture.
Although Ananias and Sapphira may have been genuine believers who are now in the presence of Christ, God chose to remove them from his church on earth. This not only purged their hypocrisy from the young and growing church, but set an example, making it clear to the church at this critical time in their development, that God does not tolerate sin.
The miraculous acts of the Apostles continue and result in their imprisonment by the jealous and prideful religious leaders. This didn't last long as they were released by an "angel of the Lord" during the night. Found preaching again in the temple court the next day, the Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin (another group of Jewish religious leaders) and questioned by the high priest.
Although the Apostles knew they had been told by the Jewish religious authorities to not teach about Jesus, the Apostles took a stand, saying "We must obey God rather than men!"
In a break from the norm, one of the Pharisees, named Gamaliel, became a voice of reason in the emotionally charged environment. He asked his fellow religious leaders to be patient and not quite so quick to pronounce judgment. If we aren't careful, we can also over-react and arrive at conclusions too quickly. Gamaliel wasn't suggesting that the Apostles be ignored if they are truly sinning. But in the absence of clear evidence that they were doing evil, he suggested that the Apostles be left alone. Another great example for us today.
God has made each of us so different from each other. We all were placed in unique environments with unique opportunities to serve God. If you're concerned by the behavior of an "out of the box" believer that you know, search scripture to look for clear evidence that what you are concerned about is sin. And if so, confront them on it with scripture, clearly and gently. If you don't see clear evidence from scripture that they are sinning, be patient. Get to know them. Ask them questions and show interest in what they think and believe. Let God sort out the details and avoid standing in the way of what God may be doing through this other person's life.
Finally, we see an idea that may sound odd to us: "The Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name". Were the apostles masochists? What kind of crazy talk is that? Who likes being beaten and whipped?
It wasn't the pain that the Apostles took any satisfaction from. It was the REASON for the pain. They realized that they were experiencing pain because they were living counter to the natural current of the world. They'd seen Jesus live the perfect life and suffer terribly for it. They considered it an honor to be attacked for trying to be like Jesus. In a sense, the pain was an indicator from God that they were doing something right!
Many times, we'll experience pain because life simply sucks here on earth until Christ finally fixes it all. Other times our own sin will result in pain in our lives and the lives of those we hurt. But there is a special measure of encouragment we can gain from knowing that our GOOD choices are resulting in the pain we may be experiencing. If you're experiencing pain today, examine your life. Make right what you've made wrong and with the pain that remains, thank God for teaching you discipline and patience. And remember, if you've put your trust in Christ, Jesus is ALWAYS with you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Coffee House Question:
If your idea of Christianity were based only on what you've seen in movies/television/news, how would you describe Christianity? What would you say Christians believe?
Next Week: Religion gets "organized" while the end approaches for one brave believer.