Text: Acts 4:32-5:16
It’s a shocking story. What is our gut reaction?
Disbelief? (a God of love wouldn’t do such a thing)
Dismay? (I’m no better than this pair. If only you knew what impure thoughts, what insincere prayers, what resentful attitudes I’m capable of…)
1. What was so wrong in what they did?
Collusion: they had hatched this plan together v2.
Deceit: their sin was not in keeping some of the money back. (Selling off houses and land was neither universal nor compulsory). It was in pretending they had given everything, v3f.
Envy: they wanted to be admired like Barnabas, without actually being like him.
Impenitence: their immediate reaction, e.g. v5 reveals their hearts –not contrition, but shock at realising that their cover had been blown. This shows how far from God they were. Compare Peter’s denial.
Unbelief: they assumed that God either did not know, or did not care.
Simeon: ‘a mixture of ostentation, of covetousness, of unbelief; a seeking of credit which they did not deserve, and a pretending to virtue which they did not possess.’
2. So what was God’s part in all of this?
It does not say that ‘God struck them down’
But neither could it have been mere coincidence.
This can happen when God draws near; when the Holy Spirit comes with power.
What was Isaiah’s reaction, when he ‘saw the Lord seated on a throne’? – ‘Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
What was Peter’s reaction, when he glimpsed the miracle-working power of Jesus? – ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’
In South Wales, in August, 1859, an early morning prayer meeting held in the open air was attended by 18,000 people. At the close, a man named Thomas John was walking in a field, lost in reverie:- ‘A friend stopped him, and said, “What a glorious sight that was, when the thousands were engaged in silent prayer…Did you ever see anything like that, Mk John?” He answered solemnly, “I didn’t see one of them: I saw no one but God. I am going home,” he said suddenly. “How terrible is this place! It is too terrible for me. My flesh is too weak to bear this weight of glory.” (Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 90.)
Edward Payson once spoke of the sense of the presence of God which can be felt by a whole assembly of people at a time of spiritual awakening:- ‘No scene, on this side of the bar of God, can be more awefully, overpoweringly solemn, than the scene which such an assembly exhibits. Then the Father of spirits is present to the spirits he has made; present to each of them, and speaking to each. Each one feels that the eye of God is upon him, that the voice of God is speaking to him. Each one, though surrounded by numbers, mourns solitary and apart. The powers of the world to come are felt. Eternity, with all its crushing realities, opens to view, and descends upon the mind.’ (in Murray, Necessary ingredients for biblical revival II, 2.)
This happened just a few weeks after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with what seemed to be tongues of fire. Fire: warms, energises, purifies, consumes. Deut 4:24/Heb 12:29 – ‘Our God is a consuming fire’.
Deut 33:27/Heb 10:31
3. Now what are the implications for us today?
This is a very unusual event. Many instances of instant healing, very few of sudden judgment.
‘God is making a point, rather stamping a pattern’.
(i) What we do with our property and our money does matter. Luther: ‘There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the purse.’
(ii) God loves sincerity; inner truthfulness. 1 Sam 16:7 – “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Do not put on an appearance of being a better Christian than you really are.
(iii) God cares about community. v11 first time Luke uses the word ‘church’. If this deception had not been dealt with, the truth would sooner or later have come out, and brought the young church and the gospel into disrepute.
(iv) Corruption within is far more damaging than attack from without.
(v) Sin remains an affront to God, even though he does not usually deal with it so summarily.
(vi) Do not presume upon God’s patience and mercy. Now is a time of opportunity; use it wisely. 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’
V5,11 – ‘Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.’
Let ours not be the fear that drives us away, v13. Let it be, rather, the fear that draws us closer to God, v14.
‘I fear God, but am not afraid of him.’
‘Fear him, ye saints, and you will then/Have nothing else to fear.’
Hebrews 12:29 – ‘Let us serve God acceptably and with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”’