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September 29, 2021

GOING DEEPER: Acts 5 (9-Minute Bible Study)

Welcome back friends, old and new. This is the next installment of our slow, simple study through the book of Acts and today we’re reading through Acts 5. Can I tell you something? What you’re doing here is more powerful than you think it is. Be encouraged!

We often put too much pressure on individual commitments and experiences with God, and, conversely, not enough trust in what can happen with ordinary, consistent disciplines like prayer and weekly study of Scripture.

This was one of the big things the Apostle Paul emphasized with his young pastor protégé Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3v14-17, Paul said, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Why would Paul say that? What you focus on determines who you become. So pursue this habit of weekly study of the “sacred writings.”

Acts 5 begins with one of the most difficult texts of the New Testament for modern readers. If Paul’s promise to Timothy is true, though, if we slow down long enough to consider the truth this text has on offer, it has the power to make us “wise for salvation”.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God,” Paul doubles down, “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” All Scripture not only means seeing each particular Scripture as having the potential to do all those things, but it also means seeing each story in light of the full scope of Scripture.

What Will You Learn from This Blog

Here are two questions we will wrestle with in this blog:
– What kinds of things anger God and what is the result?
– What kinds of things make God’s spiritual enemies mad and what is the result?

Before We Begin

The very first thing you’ll notice is Acts 5 begins with the word “but”. As you will remember from elementary school, “but” is what’s called an adversative conjunction—one word that hinges two opposing ideas. The first idea then, comes to us at the end of Acts 4. A guy named Barnabas, whose friends call him, Son of Encouragement, “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

Remember how Jesus was just with them a few weeks before talking more about what the Kingdom of God was like? Jesus had been talking about that idea before his crucifixion and resurrection too.

Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12v32-33)

This radical act of generosity from Barnabas at the end of Acts 4 was evidence to Jesus’ followers that the Kingdom of God was already starting! The future reality of Jesus’ good reign was bursting into the present. Barnabas was undoubtedly immediately endeared to that community.

“But…” Acts 5 begins, what happens next is held in contrast to the Kingdom of God. If you’ve never read this, you may be surprised at what happens as a result of that contrast.

Listen to Acts 5

Enjoy this and make note of your observations and questions as you go. 

What Makes God Mad and What is the Result? (Acts 5v1-11)
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 

When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”

But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Reflect

Okay so this is a breathtakingly sobering moment in the church’s history in Acts 5.

What happened here?

Our default setting is to see ourselves on the right side of every conflict. In this case, we tend to add our own judgment to Ananias and Sapphira thinking, “they got what they deserved.” Or some find this whole thing offensive, wondering how God and Peter could participate in such a thing. “Isn’t Jesus all about love?” Whatever your reaction, remember, there’s something here that’s profitable for our own teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. That seems to be the posture of the Jerusalem church. Why else would “great fear’ come upon them?

First, since they were students of Hebrew Scripture, they were familiar with the kinds of things that make God mad and what kinds of things don’t. “Yahweh”, the God of the Hebrew people, was actually known for two things (based on Exodus 34):

1 | God is merciful—astoundingly patient, slow to anger, quick to forgive, and abundant in love.

2 | God is just—evil doers never know when God’s justice is coming, but when it does, it comes swiftly and completely.

When the followers of Jesus heard what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, it reminded them that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). They trusted God’s judgment, knowing He had been patient, slow to anger, and quick to forgive of Ananias and Sapphira. This swift act of judgment caused them to examine themselves. Psalm 139v23-24 captures this sentiment well: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

What Makes God’s Enemies Mad and What is the Result? (Acts 5v12-42)

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,  “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.”

Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Reflect

A lot happened here, but where did we see God’s spiritual enemies and Jesus’ church collide? We saw the church go to the people most oppressed by God’s spiritual enemies.

Miracles, healings, and liberty from demonic captivity revealed to the people of God something about Jesus’ heart, namely that God’s act of spiritual warfare are always acts of goodness!

Meanwhile God’s enemies stirred up the ruling authorities against them. Why? What makes God’s enemies angry is when God’s people participate in the work of God’s Spirit through acts of goodness, righteousness, peace, patience, and bold acts of faith. What’s the go to move of God’s spiritual enemies?

They only have one weapon: lies.

Acts 5 tells us the high priest and the other rulers were filled with jealousy. What is jealousy? It’s one of the many embodied feelings that comes with fear—the fear of loss of control, the fear of missing out, the fear of loss of power or fame and all that goes with it. The small lies of God’s enemy, once believed, often lead down a path to manipulation, coercion, domination, exploitation, and violence.

What happened as a result of the enemy’s efforts?

God in His abundant mercy worked a jailbreak miracle and turned this into an opportunity for the people participating to His spiritual enemies to hear the gospel! The name of Jesus was glorified. And Jesus’ followers were emboldened to keep teaching and preaching that the Christ (the anointed one of Israel) is Jesus!

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his brothers, who had manipulated, dominated and exploited him when he was most vulnerable, “You planned this for evil, but God planned it for good.”

So, in review, what would you say makes God angry and what is the intended result? And what would you say makes God’s spiritual enemy angry and what does that mean for God’s people?

Well done!

Next Week: Acts 6.

Read last week’s blog: Going Deeper: Acts 3-4 (12-Minute Bible Study)

The photo on this blog was taken by our very own photography volunteer, Isaac Martin. Check out more of his work here.

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