Sermon 9-17-17 Acts 4:32 – 5:11 Great Power, Grace and Fear
How many of you have ever experienced sleepwalking? When I was a kid I had this recurring dream, and I would wander through the house and into the bedrooms of my siblings and ask them questions and then wander out. At the end of the sleepwalking dream my great fear would be realized and the “boogey man” was coming to my room—I would burying myself under the covers and pray “Lord help me and the dream would be over and I would awake. I was irrational, non compos mentis (some speculate that the word nincompoop comes from this) in the dream but the moment I awoke I was in the “real” world again. I was watching a news clip this past week of a 27 year old camper named Ryan Campbell who went overnight hiking with several friends in Kentucky a few years back. He set up his hammock and went to sleep early. About an hour later, while his friends were watching him, he got up sleepwalking and walked right over a cliff! His feet were working but his logic wasn’t! His friends called 911, rescuers came, and by some miracle they found him hanging in a rhododendron bush, 60 feet from the ledge, that had broken his fall leaving him with only minor bruises. Today we read a story about a couple who “take leave of their senses” but the ending doesn’t turn out so well: their decision costs them their lives. And I ask you to put yourself in their shoes and say where I am walking so close to the cliff that I am in danger of falling?
Read Acts 4:32 to Acts 5:10 These are two separate but related stories—one story sets the other up, so be patient because the tendency will be to rush to the story of Ananias and Sapphira and say “Great Scott! what is going on!!!”. Hold that in tension.
Great Power—in this short text we see the word great used several times. It’s the translation of the Greek word “mega”. Mega power, mega grace and mega fear. Specifically the apostles had great power to preach the resurrection of Christ. They were preaching the gospel in the Temple every day. Preaching that Jesus is the Way, that Jesus died for your sins to be forgiven and that Christ was risen as proof of His indestructible life and proof that His blood has power. Now the disciples were witnessing with power that manifested itself in a Holy Spirit inspired boldness and courage. Preaching convincingly and in spite of threats from the religious authorities. In fact the Holy Spirit was on the whole community for they all were filled and spoke with boldness (v 31). This was no “go along to get along” religion! Christ said “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” and you will be my witnesses. Application: look for opportunities to witness to the hope of the gospel at all times everywhere, at home, school and work. At the gym and at physical therapy! Yes be winsome! But also bold. The apostles had great power to heal and preach. Can we do that today? Yes in Jesus Name! When you speak with people experiencing physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness offer to pray for them. If God brings healing through your prayers then praise God! Just ask! And leave the rest to God.
Great Grace—what is grace? Grace is supernatural gifting to do supernatural things. There are at least three types of grace at work in the passage here. Grace of favor—all the people of Jerusalem had immense respect for the message of Christ and for the church. Grace of the Holy Spirit filling enabling them to do extraordinary things. The Greek word charis is in mind here. It’s where we get the word charismatic–meaning both super attractional but also supernatural. Examples include gift of knowledge (Agabus tells Paul he will be jailed if he goes), gift of tongues, gift of healing, gift of prophecy (Agabus predicts there will be a famine in the land). But remember all these gifts are for the edification of the body of Christ, the church.
But here is what I think Luke may have most in mind (because he links great grace with generosity): “Great grace was upon them–for no one was needy”. In God’s community in Deuteronomy 15:4 God says there need be no poor among you: for “the LORD will bless you in the Land if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord”. Leviticus 19 starts with: “you shall be holy for I am holy” (which Jesus repeats in his Sermon in Matthew 5 as “be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect”) and then follows a long list of what holiness looks like…don’t have idols in your lives which are substitutes for God. In v 9 the idea of “gleaning” is set forth as a provision to prevent poverty in the land. Grace here then, is supernatural ability to not just think about your owns needs but also the interests of others (Phil 2) Paul says that our life in Christ is characterized by a grace towards others—and not just about extending help but also, how about believing the best about others, not attributing the worst motives to others while declaring yourself innocent?
But there is also a grace of giving with generosity. Paul commends the believers of Macedonia to believers in the city of Corinth (in conjunction with the word of knowledge about the famine) that the grace of giving was on them (2 Corinthians 8:1) Do we at Providence want to be a NT church? While this phenomenon of early “common-ism” is not meant per se, as the model for all ideal Christian community, at the very least the spirit of generosity should be. If we want to be a biblical church, then our fellowship should be marked by generosity. Everyone should give as the Lord has spoken in his or her heart, and cheerfully. The Spirit and the Word are our guides. This is not a sermon about tithing, which is a well-established biblical principle, but it is about obeying the voice of the Lord. And this is where the couple (Ananias and Sapphira) go wrong.
Great Fear—Fear of God means a right understanding and respect for God’s holiness and authority. Why was there great fear in the community? Two people die because they lied to the Holy Spirit and the apostles. I don’t fully understand what all the dynamics are at play. A couple decides to give the proceeds of the sale of property to the church, but they hold back a portion, while maintaining that they have given the full price. Why give? Peer pressure? Well others, including Barnabas are doing it, so maybe we should too. Why tell a lie? Pride? To get full credit and look good in the eyes of the community? Why hold back part of it? Fear or Greed? Maybe this was their retirement investment? Did they “get cold feet?” Put yourself in their shoes—have you ever backed out of something that you believe the Holy Spirit was impressing on your heart? Examples might include giving (well we had planned to give that to the church but something else came up and you know the old expression ‘God helps those who help themselves”). Or giving in to self-pity (I know the Lord wants me to focus on Him and others but I just need to wallow in feeling sorry for myself). Or justifying your alienation from someone because “well you know it’s really their fault and God would not ask me to forgive because that would just further embolden them”. Or giving in to creature comforts like buying yourself something expensive that you don’t really need (retail therapy), and justifying it by saying well “I earned it!”. Or keeping your mouth shut when you sensed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to speak up. Or for that matter any type of addiction whether its food or porn or alcohol or affirmation from others, that you just have to have when you are tired or stressed and you justify it by saying “I need this to keep my sanity”.
Ananias and Sapphira believed a lie, inspired by Satan himself. It’s like they were sleepwalking, going through the motions of Christian community and following God, engaging part of their minds but not being fully devoted with their heart, soul, mind and strength to the Lord—that made them walk off the cliff to their own destruction. What lies are you believing that may lead you to walk off a cliff?
If you are in a prison of your own sin, you are not meant to do this alone. The Risen Christ, the Spirit and the fellowship of God’s people in the Church invite you to come into the light, receive hope and experience true change. Jesus invites you now. To repent and receive forgiveness and healing and restoration.