Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
God did not ask for Nadab and Abihu’s incense, nor did He ask for Ananias and Sapphira’s gift. Both were offered freely by the giver, but neither were authorized. They were both strange fire, to quote the King James version, and both were struck down for their presumption. We should receive the warning God gave through Moses. “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” (Leviticus 10:3) Let me add here Malachi 1:14b alongside it for a little more color, “For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” Ananias and Sapphira’s death, like Nadab and Abihu’s death, was a shock to everyone, both inside the church and out. The last verse of our passage reads, (Acts 5:11) And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Let’s make some applications
First, as we said last week, giving is a form of sacrifice in the New Covenant. In writing to the Philippian church, Paul says (Philippians 4:18) “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Giving is something that we should take very seriously. There is a portion of our funds that belongs to the Lord as an act of worship. The Lord calls it the sacred portion in Deuteronomy 26. This gift is to be used to care for the poor and support those who maintain God’s worship.
Deuteronomy 26:12-1312 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.
We can always respond, “Well, that is the Old Testament.” To which I respond, “Do we not still have these obligations? Should we not care for the poor and maintain the worship of God? Should the Spirit of God have made us less generous under Grace than under Law?” As I pointed out last week, the early church was marked by giving. So much so that they eliminated need. So much so that it caused trouble because there were not enough officers to handle it and distribute it. People sold profitable properties to care for their needy brothers and sisters. The giving of patronage (substantial gifts) revealed key disciples like Barnabas and drew out two pretenders trying to imitate him in Ananias and Sapphira.
Second, we should examine our worship. Our solitude before God, praise and adoration, reading and meditating on Scripture, attendance to the public worship, family worship, all of it. We need to discern whether or not our life orbits around Christ as the Earth does around the Sun or whether Christ is just a part of our life sectioned off from the whole. The second would be half-hearted worship. Are we holding a portion of our life back from Christ as Ananias held a portion back from the sale of his land? Does Christ have our whole heart or just the public part of it?
Third, are we going along with our spouses to get along? Ananias was in the wrong, but Sapphira didn’t have to die. She could’ve answered Peter’s question honestly when he asked, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” (Acts 5:8). Are we aiding and abetting the sin of our spouses? Are we conspiring with our spouse to defraud the Lord of the worship due Him? Maybe it’s giving, or perhaps it’s something else? Are we participating in a lie? Do we want to be perceived as a godly couple that has it all together? How much of our life, language, and worship is about keeping up appearances?
Fourth, do you need to lay everything down at “the feet of the apostles?” The portion you’ve been holding back. I mean that in two ways. 1. Is it time to truly answer the call to lay down your life and follow Christ? or 2. Is it time to take another step and surrender on a deeper level than you ever have before?
For Barnabas, I think here is where he answered the call to ministry, but it could have been for salvation. There is a theory that Barnabas is the rich young ruler Christ told to give everything to the poor and follow him. Some believe his nickname, “Son of Encouragement,” has to do with him, in this passage, heeding the encouragement of Christ to give up all and follow him. It is only a theory, one we cannot prove. I only toss it out as an encouragement to be like Barnabas. He gave up everything to follow Christ. He will later bring Paul into the ministry. He will encourage Mark and restore him to Christian ministry after his first failure. Both those men are martyrs and New Testament authors. How much of Barnabas’ influence is imprinted into the pages of the New Testament just below the surface? Let us follow Barnabas and give up houses and land and reputation and station and whatever else needs to be sacrificed… counting it all as rubbish, to quote Barnabas’ friend Paul, so that we can know Christ, suffer with our brothers in need, and if by any means we can attain to the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:10)
Let our lives be truly sanctified as those who draw near to the Lord. Let us glorify His name by the way we live openly and generously toward the Church. May we, through our living sacrifice, see that the Lord our God is feared… meaning revered and exalted among the nations. May great fear come upon the whole church and upon all who hear of our holy living and our holy loving of one another, not through our sinful deaths, defrauding of the Savior, and the lying we do to the Holy Spirit. Let us lay our lives and livelihoods down at the apostles’ feet like Barnabas and not try and deceptively hold on to them as Ananias and Sapphira did. They both, meaning Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira found out in a very literal way what Jesus meant when He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
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Blessings and may God be with you!