Thursday, February 7

What In God’s Name is Going on Here?

32 Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. 33 And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles' feet. This was then distributed for each person's basic needs. 36 Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 

5:1But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife's knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 

3Then Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? 4 Wasn't it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn't it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God!" 5 When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him. 

7There was an interval of about three hours; then his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 "Tell me," Peter asked her, "did you sell the field for this price?" 

"Yes," she said, "for that price." 

9Then Peter said to her, "Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!"

10Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things. 

12Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers-- crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. 

(Acts 4:32-5:1 CSB)

We’ve seen some amazing and miraculous things as we’ve worked our way through Acts, but today’s section of Scripture takes it to a new level:

Socialism. 

People dropping dead.

Shadows healing.

It’s all right there in the Bible, so we nod our heads and smile, but inside we’re asking, God, all this is happening in Your name…but what is going on here?!

Socialism. That’s how modern readers interpret this section, but we must be cautious of reading contemporary ideas into an ancient text. While Christianity certainly has political implications, Luke is not describing a political ideology here. He mentioned the same type of generosity among the believers at the end of Acts 2; in between these two sections, he wrote of the escalating conflict between Jesus’ followers and the Temple. This is the conflict Luke is highlighting—between what was thought to be the centerpoint of God’s community and this new community that actually acts like God’s covenant people. Luke’s wording that the believers were “of one heart and mind” and “there was not a needy person among them” allude to Old Testament Scripture that describe what God’s covenant community should look like: Deuteronomy 15 describes a community with “no poor among them”; Jeremiah 32 promised to make the people of “one mind.” These Jesus followers are living out the generous and selfless lifestyle that Scripture says would characterize God’s people, while the established religious order is full of jealousy, pride, and active resistance to God Himself.

Drop Dead Judgment. The story of Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead cannot be properly understood outside of its preceding context, or else we are rightly bothered by it. This type of immediate and severe judgment is not typical in the Bible. God is usually patient, allowing people time to repent. There are a few times in the Old Testament, though, where there is similarly swift judgment. In Leviticus 10, two priests (Aaron’s sons) are consumed by fire when they attempt to offer the wrong fire and incense in the Temple. There is also Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16,  Achan’s theft in Joshua 7 and Hezekiah’s offering in 2 Chronicles 26. The consequences are quick and severe, and leave us scratching our heads or closing our Bibles. While the sin in each story seems difference, each guilty party has committed the same offense: the have treated lightly the holiness of God. Each story is a sin against the holiness of the Temple or things devoted (separated as holy) to Yahweh. God’s holiness cannot and will not be trifled with. Luke’s description of the church prior to Ananias and Sapphira’s death made it clear that the community was now functioning as God’s holy space, and hence their sin was not just a lie—but a blatant disregard for God’s living and active holy presence.

Healing Shadows. This type of healing is unprecedented. Never before and never again in Scripture will you read of a healing shadow. Due to the unusual nature, we should not expect that God to still work in this way. The amped-up miraculous nature serves to amp-up the growing tension between these Jesus-following Jews and the Temple. One would think healings would be a good thing, but don’t miss where these unusual healings were happening. In the streets. Power and authority follow these disciples, causing the people to follow them, and the powers-that-be of the Temple are not happy about this power shift. 


Reflection

Each of the three elements we looked at today—‘socialism,’ drop dead judgment, and healing shadows—are all elements of Luke’s point that the early Church is God’s covenant community, characterized by His holy presence. In which area—selfless generosity, respect for God’s holiness, or a break from religious systems—do you feel God’s conviction? What one step might you take this month to be more like the Temple of God?

Prayer

Lord, You have called us to be holy because You are holy. We are to be holy because we are Your living, breathing, walking-around Temple on this earth. Sanctify us by Your Spirit so that we might accurately reflect Your character to the watching world. In Jesus’ name, make others wonder why we are so different. Amen. 


Pick Four More Activities

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  • Listen and Worship.

  • Pray a Psalm.

  • Read a Book.

  • Retell the Gospel to Yourself.

  • Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.

  • Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.

  • Memorize a Verse.

  • List Five Things You're Thankful For.

  • Encourage Someb

Megan NessonComment