Ananias and Sapphira

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 ES]

Every lie is an attack on truth whether it is a small “white lie” told at the moment or the big, premeditated lie meant to deceive. One of the characteristics of every lie is the capacity of the lie to change the way a person thinks soon becoming “truth.” In a corrupted mind truth becomes a lie and the lie believed becomes truth. When you lie to yourself, to justify or excuse an untrue belief or immoral behavior, you are lying to God. Claiming to know God and then lying suggests either ignorance of His revealed will or stubborn disobedience.

Jesus uses harsh words against those who place their traditions over the word of God, saying bluntly they have “made void” the word of God for their traditions.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”  [Matthew 15:1-9 ESV]

When God establishes a Moral Code based on His eternal, holy being, such as the Ten Commandments, it is not the servants place to change that code. Miriam, and Aaron, lied to God when they lied to themselves about Moses’ Cushite wife and their own political position before the people and nation of Israel. Gehazi lied to Naaman and to Elisha. Jonah did not lie but willfully disobeyed because he knew how God would work and show mercy to the people of Nineveh. In each instance, where mourning over the consequences of sin is absent so is repentance. 

Willful, stubborn disobedience brings judgment. If God’s judgment is not immediate it is only because of divine mercy. Physical and spiritual death is the righteous judgment against sin. But separation from that which sustains physical life, a judgment because of sin, does not mean the person is separated from God, He who sustains spiritual life. All will die physically. Not all will die spiritually.

God, as the Righteous Judge, has the absolute right to judge at His desecration. In the days of the nation of Israel, after they had been freed from the slavery of the Egyptians and given the Laws of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, a man was found picking up sticks on the Sabbath.

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses [Numbers 15:32-36 ESV].

God had just given the command to not work on the Sabbath. Read the verses previous to this incident. God recognizes the difference between those who sin unintentionally and those who do “anything with a high hand” [Numbers 15:30 ESV]. There is no mercy for those who willingly rebel against God. Yet, God’s mercy extends through each person’s lifetime until He determines their end. We look at the incident and deem God unfair, harsh, unmerciful. He is just, good and  eternally merciful. He is holy and demands from those who are His holiness.  Are there any other places in Scripture where a person is put to death for working on the Sabbath?

In Acts 4 and 5, the new Church, its believers recently filled by and with the Holy Spirit, show their separation from the world for service to God. They, many of them, for a short period of time at least, seek to care for each other’s physical needs. Then willful rebellion crept in. For a time there each need was met by the generosity of those living in the new eternal community of believers. Then Ananias and his wife Sapphira deliberately lie to their community

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.  

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things [Acts 5:1-11 ESV].

Does God ever in Scripture do something like this again? There are instances where God strikes down those who are not His, pagan priests, armies warring against His people. There is an instance where God judged a prophet, killing him with a lion, after he disobeyed God when he was lied to by another prophet (1 Kings 13:24). There is another instance where God commanded a man who blasphemed Him be stoned (see Leviticus 24:10-16). However, I can find only two instances of such harsh, immediate treatment, whose conclusion is death, immediate physical death, for those individuals who sinned publicly. This instance in Acts 5 is a parallel for that in Numbers 15. God’s intent is to show the seriousness of sin, and to strike fear in the hearts of His people. He wants all to mourn over the eternal consequences of even the “smallest” sin.

If not for God’s mercy all of us would face immediate judgment. Does not God use the weak, the lowly, even sinful people to accomplish His purposes?

Public sin teaches those who are weak to sin both publicly and privately. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea [Matthew 18:6 ESV]. It is better to remove yourself from any place of influence completely if your influence is going to teach others to rebel against God. When a servant rebels it becomes a detriment, actually working against the One they are supposed to serve. It is appropriate for God to remove them from His service. Those who mourn over their sin may remain a servant by the grace and mercy of God.

I am a servant. It is not my place to hold myself up for acknowledgment, to be applauded by people for my accomplishments or work. It is my place to point toward God and what He has done. It is my place to mourn over the sin of others, and for my own sin, because I do not want them or me to rebel against our Creator.

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