First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, June 13, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Taking God’s Grace for Granted!”
As we continue our study in the book of Acts, we hit this morning the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. The story of Ananias and Sapphira seems out of place at the beginning of Acts. If you were to read through the first four chapters of Acts, Luke has been telling us about so many great things which the disciples of Jesus were enabled to do after the ascension of the Lord.
So far it has been a narrative which tells us about the power of the Holy Spirit in the apostles’ lives, the strong bond and fellowship among the followers of Jesus, their powerful prayer life, their bold witness, and the phenomenal growth of the early Church. Acts 4:33 summarizes everything up until our Scripture this morning when it says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” It’s a picture of a wonderful community of God’s people.
Then we get to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 and we feel as if we are in a different world. We were up there on the mountaintop, but now we get to the lowest valley. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira do not seem to fit with the narrative just before the text and after it. Why does Luke interrupt his account with this depressing story? Before I offer a couple remarks about this sad story, I would like to briefly say something about this couple, Ananias and Sapphira.
Who were Ananias and Sapphira?
Who were they? This is a Greek couple, which means they’re not Jewish. They are probably new to the Christian faith. It’s possible they were part of the 120 disciples in Acts 1:15. It’s also possible that they heard the wind when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles during Pentecost and became Christians. Maybe they saw the man who was crippled get healed. In any case, they are relatively new Christians. Ananias is a Greek name that means, “God is merciful.” Sapphira literally means “the beautiful lady.”
Seeing the example of so many good Christians and being captivated by the growth and interest in the Church, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, wanted a part of the action. So they sold a parcel of land but decided to handle the money very differently than others did. Instead of giving one hundred percent of the money to the Church, they kept part of it for themselves.
Probably coveting power and prestige in the Church, they “agreed together”, they conspired, to lead the Apostle Peter and others to believe they donated the entire sum. We have to know that Ananias and Sapphira owned their property; they were free to do with it as they saw fit (Acts 5:4). Nobody actually asked them or forced them to sell their property. It was their decision to do so. For conspiring to lie as they did, they were struck dead.
So the question we need to ask ourselves this morning is: Why does Luke interrupt his account with this depressing and sad story? Why does Luke bring us from the mountaintop to the deep valley? I think there is so much we can learn from this story but let me briefly share two lessons today.
First: A Warning Against Living Counterfeit Christianity
At the heart of the story of Ananias and Sapphira is a strong warning against living counterfeit Christian lives! On the outside, Ananias and Sapphira look just like another church member named Barnabas that Luke introduces at the end of Acts chapter 4. Barnabas had just sold his property and brought the money to the apostles, and to the casual observer, Ananias and Sapphira were doing the same thing.
Luke introduces these two stories back-to-back to show us there is the genuine and authentic, but there is also the fake and the counterfeit. That’s why Acts 5:1 starts this way, “But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.” Deep in the heart of Ananias and Sapphira lingered a love of money and a desire for people’s praise and approval, so they conspired together to present a portion of their money while passing it off as the entire amount. Friends, there is a huge difference between the real and the fake, the authentic and the counterfeit. The first lesson we get to see here is a warning against living counterfeit Christianity.
Second: An Awareness of God’s Holiness
But there is a second lesson that we need to remember here. The story of Ananias and Sapphira invites us to seriously consider God’s holiness. It seems that Ananias and Sapphira didn’t take God’s holiness seriously. We are supposed to approach God and to worship Him with reverence, awe and respect, because He is holy. Our God is like no other. That’s the exact opposite of what Ananias and Sapphira did. In their worship they lie and test God. They underestimate God’s holiness. In other words, they took God’s grace for granted.
Ananias and Sapphira may have known that truth, the truth of God’s holiness, but they certainly weren’t living it. Their attitude and deeds testified to that. Ananias and Sapphira looked good on the outside, but they were rotting on the inside.
Friends, the warning against living counterfeit Christianity and our awareness of God’s holiness ought to invite us today to examine our lives and search our hearts. In Acts 5:5, Luke tells us that “great fear seized all who heard of it.” In fact, later, in Acts 5:11, we also read that “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.” Heart searching is the proper response as we reflect on Ananias and Sapphira’s story. King David prayed those great words in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.
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