Can you remember a lie you told as a child? As you may recall from previous chapters, the early church is growing. Many in the church are led by the Holy Spirit to sell property and give the proceeds to the ministry of the church. Luke's narrative in chapter five begins with a man named Ananias. We will begin by reading Acts 5:1-4...
"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.”
Were Ananias and Sapphira required to sell their land and donate the proceeds to the Church? Certainly not. Continue reading verses 5-11:
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.
If Ananias was not required to sell his land and give to the church, what did he and his wife do wrong? The punishment for their deceit was severe. From verse eleven we know that this caused great fear - which is not surprising. What do you think was the intended lesson for the Church? Continue reading at verse 12:
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."
Solomon's Colonnade was just outside of the Temple. It was open to all people - as was the Church. Luke notes that the Church was highly regard by the people, yet many were fearful following the incident with Ananias. Do you see this tension in the Church today? In spite of the tension in the early church, Luke declares that more and more people were added to the Church daily. I think this is a good thing for use to remember today. The Church will grow even when bad things happen as long as the Church remains faithful to the Truth.
What do you make of the “healing” and miracles that occurred in the early Church? Have you ever experienced a miracle? The early Church was vibrant and active. But not everyone was happy to see grow in the early Church. Continue reading at verses 17 through 20:
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.”
Why do you think the Sadducees filled with jealousy? Are there some in our modern world that could be jealous of the Church?
How ironic that the apostles were set free by an angel, when the Sadducees did not believe in angels! And how it is strange that the Sadducees did not believe in angels, when the angels of God appear so many times in the five books of Moses (which they revered), and throughout the Word of God. Would you have had the courage to return to the Temple in the morning?
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.
The term angel means messenger, specifically a messenger from God. We find many places in the Bible were angels have an active role. In Genesis, God put Cherubim in the garden of Eden to guard the tree of life. Genesis 3:24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
In Exodus 25:19 we learn that figures of two cherubs sat on the mercy seat in the Ark of the Covenant. "And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof."
In other parts of the Bible we learn of (at least) three special types of angels: Cherubims, Seraphim, and Archangels. While they are messengers of God, they are not to be worshiped. Angels are created beings, like humans, but they appear to have very long life spans. They are spiritual beings but they do have the capacity to interact with the physical world. This particular angel was sent to free the apostles from jail. Back to Acts at verse 25:
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.”
The Sanhedrin finally admits why they fear what the Apostles are teaching. They do not want to be guilty of Jesus' death. They still think that they can use force to silence Peter and the others. When is it permissible to ignore the orders of an authority? In verse 29 Peter replies with his answer:
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.”
How would you paraphrase Peter's answer? When the Holy Spirit (God) directs we must obey Him. Likewise, when God's Word directs we must obey the Word over human authorities. Following Peter's Holy Spirit empowered reply, it is the Sanhedrin's turn to respond, which they do beginning in verse 33:
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.”
Gamaliel was a very wise man. He was also a teacher of Saul. How would you summarize his argument in support of ignoring Peter and the other Followers of Jesus? Do you think Gamaliel had questions about Jesus? Luke's narrative indicate that Gamaliel argument was accepted by most in the Sanhedrin.
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."
Have you every rejoiced in suffering (James 1:2-5)? Flogging was a very painful punishment. Far worse than the caning that we see in some societies today. Flogging could leave permanent scarring or worse. Yet we see that Peter was filled with joy! The joy was not in the flogging, but in the knowledge that the Gospel of Jesus would continue to spread. As Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians (3:10), "I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death," May we model the same faith in Jesus!