Script for the June 20th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast.
Welcome to the June 20th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast. I’m Matt Ellis, and I’m the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida.
Today’s reading is Esther 1-2 and Acts 5, but we will focus only on the New Testament in this podcast.
If you have questions about anything in the Old Testament or New Testament reading assignment, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may answer it on the next podcast.
This chapter picks up where the last chapter left off. Barnabas had sold some of his property and brought the proceeds to the church. He gave it to the pastors/Apostles so that they could distribute the money to the poor.
Apparently, Ananias and Sapphira saw what Barnabas did and observed the affirmation he must have received from the congregation. They wanted in on it.
Acts 5:1 (CSB): “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.”
There is nothing wrong so far. But let’s keep reading.
Acts 5:2 (CSB): “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.”
With his wife’s knowledge, Ananias sold the property, pocketed some of the money for themselves, and brought the rest to the church. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with this. Everything here is certainly permittable by biblical standards.
But it’s about to get real. Listen to what Peter had to say.
Acts 5:3-4 (CSB): “ ‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 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 people but to God.’”
When we read Peter’s words, we realize that Christianity upholds the rights of property owners. We also realize that Christians can make their own decisions regarding their personal wealth.
Yet Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit. It seems that Ananias led everyone to believe that he was bringing 100% of the proceeds while he was secretly keeping some of the money in his pocket.
There was nothing wrong with only giving a portion of the money to the Lord through the church. Yet, everything was wrong with misleading the crowd and lying to the Holy Spirit.
Acts 5:5-6 (CSB): “When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him.”
Once again, we must realize that much of what happens in the book of Acts isn’t normative. It is what happened at the beginning of the church age, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us how things should go as we await the Lord’s return.
It isn’t normal for people to die in a church service as Ananias did. Yet this happened in the early church to inform the rest of us how seriously God takes it when we mislead others in order to get their affirmation, especially in the context of church life.
In fact, we observe that “a great fear came on all who heard.” That was the intent. The Lord wasn’t going to make a practice of killing everyone who sinned against Him. He merely made an example of a sinful couple to cause everyone else to realize that they needed to take their pursuit of holiness seriously.
We aren’t sure where Ananias’ wife was. Sapphira may have been out shopping. But she eventually makes her way into the church service and must have looked for her husband.
Acts 5:7 (CSB): “About three hours later, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.”
She didn’t know that their act of deception had been found out. She didn’t realize that her husband was dead, nor that his body had already been buried. So, as she was probably wondering where her husband was, Peter gave her an opportunity to come clean.
Acts 5:8 (CSB): “ ‘Tell me,’ Peter asked her, ‘did you sell the land for this price?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘for that price.’”
I wonder if there was an audible gasp in the congregation when she said “yes.” They knew that she was lying and knew that God’s judgment had come upon her husband. They now couldn’t keep their eyes off her as the hammer was about to drop.
Acts 5:9 (CSB): “Then 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.’”
Sapphira realizes that her sin has been found out, her husband was already dead, and she is moments from death. It reminds me of Numbers 32:23, which says: “…be sure your sin will catch up with you.”
Acts 5:10 (CSB): “Instantly 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.”
Honestly, this is sad. Our hearts break for a couple who may not have been evil. But they had determined to mislead the congregation by making others think they were being more sacrificial than they really were.
Friends, if we think we are incapable of committing a sin that is relatively equal to their sin, then we aren’t being honest with ourselves. It is only by God’s grace that we did not live in the time of the early church. The Lord was making an example of people back then to let the rest of us know just how seriously he takes disobedience to His Word.
The very next verse lets us know that the Lord’s objective was accomplished.
Acts 5:11 (CSB): “Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things.”
Then we read again that the early church did things that aren’t normal for us today.
Acts 5:12-13 (CSB): “Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. They were all together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared to join them, but the people spoke well of them.”
The many signs and wonders done among the Apostles called the people to stand up and listen to what God was saying. Yet, it also was a way of gaining a healthy respect for the church. God was enabling the early church to be left alone when it was so small and vulnerable.
But the church wouldn’t remain small for long. It was growing exponentially.
Acts 5:14 (CSB): “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—multitudes of both men and women.”
Now, we read about the signs and wonders that were done in the church. However, we realize that a pagan culture had some superstitious notions when it came to understanding the power that was manifested among the Apostles. They even thought that shadows had healing powers.
Acts 5:15-16 (CSB): “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. In addition, a multitude came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”
We aren’t surprised when the religious leaders were getting so fuming mad that they were willing to get a bit reckless with the early Christians. Regardless of how favorable they were with the Jewish crowds, they had to be stopped.
Acts 5:17 (CSB): “Then the high priest rose up. He and all who were with him, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.”
They put them in jail and were prepared to address them the following day. But things didn’t go as they planned.
Acts 5:18-21 (CSB): “So they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple, and tell the people all about this life.’ Hearing this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.”
One of the things that is foundational to life is the passionate resistance to death. Someone who a murderer corners will do everything they can to stay alive. Even when we approach the time of our death, our body continues to fight for the next breath of air until we are no longer strong enough to breathe.
Typically, only heroes are willing to risk their life for someone else. We praise those folks who race to a burning car to pull out its unconscious occupants. We applaud those who jump into a raging river to rescue a drowning child. Putting our life on the line for someone else is the activity of nobles.
And this is what we see the early Christians doing. Rather than flee persecution or shut their mouths, they obey the Lord and put their lives on the line. They speak the truth to a lost and dying world so that some might believe in Jesus even though the one who is speaking may be persecuted or die for speaking those words.
When the Sanhedrin was convened, they sent for the Apostles to be brought from the jail to stand before them.
Acts 5:21-23 (CSB): “…When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full council of the Israelites—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. But when the servants got there, they did not find them in the jail; so they returned and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”
The Apostles were nowhere to be found. They weren’t in jail. So had they escaped and run in fear for their lives? Hardly!
Acts 5:24-25 (CSB): “As the captain of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, wondering what would come of this. Someone came and reported to them, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple and teaching the people.’”
Friends, we can stand in admiration of those Christians for courageously proclaiming the Gospel even if they would die for it. But it was ultimately God’s Holy Spirit powerfully working in them that enabled them to stand firm when they may have been tempted to run.
Acts 5:26 (CSB): “Then the commander went with the servants and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them.”
Once again, the Lord’s followers were going to be brought before the pseudo-religious leaders. Once again, those who followed the Lord would own the meeting.
Acts 5:27-28 (CSB): “After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, ‘Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’”
The men in the Sanhedrin knew full well that they had ordered the Apostles not to speak in Jesus’ Name. They also knew that the Apostles kept saying that even though God had decreed Jesus to be crucified, the religious leaders were guilty of unlawfully sending Jesus to the cross. So, while God’s purposes were fulfilled, the religious leaders were guilty of murder.
The Sanhedrin also knew that the crowd of Jesus-followers was growing. They wanted the Apostles and early Christians to stop talking about Jesus!
How did the early Christians respond?
Acts 5:29 (CSB): “Peter and the apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than people.’”
We talked about this in a recent podcast. It is wonderful when a Christian can obey society’s laws while also simultaneously obeying God’s laws. Yet, if they cannot follow them both, they will obey God’s commands, disobey society’s laws, and receive the government’s consequences.
That is what Peter was saying. But he’s not finished talking. He’s going to incriminate the religious leaders again.
Acts 5:30-32 (CSB): “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging him on a tree. God exalted this man to his right hand as ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Peter is declaring the Gospel to the religious leaders. He’s telling them about Jesus again. He’s telling them that God has sent Jesus to bring about repentance (a turning from sin) and forgiveness.
Did the religious folks repent? Did they turn from their sin to Jesus so they might be saved?
Acts 5:33 (CSB): “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.”
Not everyone who hears the Gospel wants to receive it. Not everyone who hears of the forgiveness that Jesus offers has a heart that acknowledges a need for it.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. We read of a Pharisee named Gamaliel that speaks up. He was one of the most, if not the most, respected Pharisees at that time. In fact, according to Acts 22:3, he taught and trained the Apostle Paul. But in this moment, he will calm down the Sanhedrin.
Acts 5:34-39 (CSB): “But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. He said to them, ‘Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re about to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his followers were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. He also perished, and all his followers were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.’ They were persuaded by him.”
So was Gamaliel sympathetic to the followers of Jesus? I don’t think so. Instead, he seems to have been convinced of God’s sovereign rule over creation. It seems that he believed the Sanhedrin could keep from creating a wedge between them and the people by letting the Christian movement run its course. Gamaliel seems to think that Christianity would die of natural causes.
Well, the Sanhedrin remembered that telling the Apostles to stop talking about Jesus didn’t work the last time. So the punishment increased this time. They beat them and then told them not to talk about Jesus anymore.
Acts 5:40 (CSB): “After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them.”
This was unjust! They had been beaten for talking about Jesus and sharing the Gospel. They had their first taste of persecution. What did the Apostles think about it?
Acts 5:41 (CSB): “Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name.”
This makes very little sense to those who have been blessed to worship the Lord in a place where they are not persecuted for doing so. We have no idea why suffering for Jesus would be a cause for great happiness.
There are multiple reasons why those early Christians were happy, but I suspect that one of them is found in Jesus’ words:
Matthew 5:11-12 (CSB): “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So they rejoiced because their unjust beating for standing up for the Lord meant that they had laid up treasures in Heaven.
However, I’m sure there were at least a few other reasons why they were happy. They probably felt closer to Jesus because they had suffered for Him. They may also have felt honored that they suffered for their wonderful Savior. On and on this list could go.
Friend, we need to learn from these early Christians. Most of us have been blessed to live in a country where we can serve the Lord freely. Yet, I wonder how much longer it will be before the persecution of Christians begins in our country. There may come a time in the future when Christians, who have been in prison for their faith, are welcomed into our churches and even serve in leadership positions.
While this sounds foreign to us now, we need only realize that some of the Apostles already have a criminal record, and we have only made it five chapters into the book of Acts. I’m not saying that we should lower our standards for criminals. I am saying that if someone’s criminal record is because they stood up for Jesus in a biblically allowed way, then that is totally different.
As this chapter comes to an end, we observe that the early Christians weren’t scared. At least they weren’t ruled by fear. They lived in Jerusalem, and the Temple was their place of worship. So they were going to continue worshipping in the Temple even if it meant that they were persecuted for it.
Acts 5:42 (CSB): “Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
Lord Jesus, when we look at the resolve of those early Christians to follow you, we feel so inadequate. When we observe their courage to continue serving You even though it would get them in trouble, we wonder if we could ever do such a thing. Yet, help us, Lord, to continue to grow toward greater degrees of holiness. And help us to rest in Your Holy Spirit to give us what we need should persecution come in our lifetimes. We want to be able to rejoice like those early saints when they were persecuted for standing up for You and speaking biblical truth to a lost and dying world. We pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
I hope today’s episode has helped you to understand and enjoy God’s Word so that you can apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If looking over the script for this podcast would be beneficial to you, hop on over to my website at mattsmusings.net. I will provide a link in this episode’s show notes.
The “Enjoying the Bible” podcast is a ministry of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida. Check us out at fbcpolkcity.com. See you tomorrow!