Sermon: The Awesome Presence of God 5:1-11

The Awesome Presence of God

Acts 2:42-47& 4:32-5:11

Introduction

You don’t have to read too much in Greek literature to discover what they valued.  Plato, Philo, and Origin etc allude to their one great goal in society.  Basically, their society revolved around the idea that through human effort and reaching full potential and with the blessings of the gods, they could create a society where peace, prosperity, and joy would reign.  The Greek word koinonia was often used to describe this ideal society.

When Luke (a Greek), records his account of the early church, he writes with an appeal to his fellow Greeks.  One of Luke’s goals is to explain to his people that what they long for cannot be found in their plethora of false deities, it cannot be found in human effort, nor can it be found through human potential.  A society who experiences true koinonia can only come about through fellowship with the true God through His Son Jesus Christ and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of these people.

Notice with me how Luke’s account would appeal so much to a Greek/Roman culture who values a society of tranquility and generosity…

Notice in these passages the great example from the early church of Christian love and care for each other…Notice also, Luke’s example of a man who is the model of this kind of love and care…then, finally notice two others who were hypocritical and cared more for themselves than others.

Primary Claim of the Text

The Early Church experienced the power of the presence of God and was caught up in wonder and awe.

Human Condition Met By the Text

Wonder and awe

Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved…

Acts 4:32-37 (ESV)
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold
35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus,
37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet…

Acts 5:1-11 (ESV)
1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2 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.
3 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?
4 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.”
5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 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.”
10 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.
11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

1.  True Christian Fellowship

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
One word that Luke uses is the word, devoted.  They were a devoted group.

Acts 1:14 (ESV)
14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Acts 2:46 (ESV)
46 And day by day, (steadfastly) attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
The early church flourished even in the midst of massive persecution because the people were steadfastly devoted.  The Holy Spirit was creating a koinonia group from among the general population.  He was calling out those from among this Greek culture those who were being saved…the Church.

The Early Church experienced the power of the presence of God and was caught up in wonder and awe.
Look with me to see what they were devoted to…
the apostles’ teaching
They had a great desire to learn the things of God.  They loved to hear one of the Apostles or teachers preach or teach from the Scriptures.  The Apostle’s teaching is a phrase that means the Gospel in all its glory.  This is what the people loved to hear over and over, the wondrous works and life of their Lord.  They loved when one of the teachers took them to a text and showed how Christ is revealed in it.
They also realized that if they were to have strong faith to face the future it would come through accurate Bible exposition.  Apostolic teaching was at the center of church life.
They were devoted to sound doctrine and learned all they could concerning Jesus Christ and the Gospel.  This new truth, then lead to more and more love for Christ and for His people.
and the fellowship,
These believers were devoted to the church.  They loved and cared for each other.  They met together every Lord’s Day for worship and fellowship.  They also met other times and shared a meal together.  They cared about the Koinonia, the common good of every member of the church.  The Bible tells us that they had all things in common and even if someone owned something it was like it really wasn’t his but belonged to everyone.  They shared and cared for each other and there was not a needy person in their midst.  The Church community was another focus everyone had…they were devoted to each other.

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

to the breaking of bread
This is why we have Home Groups.  Through the year, we meet together for the express purpose of sharing a meal together, learning from the Bible, and building one another up in the faith.
There is something about sitting down together as a church family and sharing a meal that brings us closer together.  Families share meals together and love each other.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
and the prayers.
They prayed and prayed and prayed…
Prayers went up, Power came down, The Gospel went out, Persecution came, Prayers went up, Power came down…
They prayed in their homes, at meals, regularly in the Temple, and just about any other chance they had, they prayed.

This list of four main things should serve as our model.
With these biblical ideas in mind, I’d like to pose a few questions for us to consider…
When the Bibles uses the word devoted, here in this case, it means an intense commitment or strong desire.
-How devoted are you to sitting under sound preaching and teaching?  Do you ready yourself to hear the Word?  Do you read the text ahead of time even the night before?  Do you practice a regular and consistent Bible study on your own?  How devoted are you to the Apostle’s teaching?

-How devoted are you to this local fellowship?  Do you keep in contact with the members of the church?  Do you seek out ways that you can meet other’s needs?  Are you connected in a ministry in this fellowship or do you simply show up and sit?  A true fellowship (koinonia) is a community or a family where every member has a part to play from the youngest to the oldest.  It’s about people and sharing.  It’s about loving others and helping those who need help.  It’s a community effort not just the Elders.  How devoted are you to the people here at Grace Community Church?

-How devoted are you to Home Group and monthly fellowship meals?  The early church was devoted to breaking break together so must we be.  Are you a regular and consistent attender to a weekly Home Group or do you show up when there is nothing else going on?  If that’s the case then you are not devoted.  How important is it to you?  Do you plan ahead and show up early for fellowship before the meal and stay a little bit after to speak with others and care for them?

-How devoted are you to prayer?  How often do you pray?  Do you pray for your meals and thank God for them?  Do you pray when you go out to eat?  Do you pray with your spouse?  Do you pray regularly in dependence on God rather than something or someone else?

2.  They Were in Awe of God
Acts 4:32-37 (ESV)
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold
35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus,
37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet…

If Luke could point to one individual who was the model disciple and who was devoted to all the items mentioned above, it was Barnabas.  By the time we get to Acts 4, the Apostles are teaching and healing in public.  Their traveling to place like the Temple and the market place, places where lost people congregate to speak of Christ.

Here is the summary of this early church… were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
The Apostles, after their prayer for boldness (last week), were bold in their Gospel proclamation.  33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
The early church developed a way in which they gave so that others would have their needs met.  They would look around either in their house or farm to see if there were things they really didn’t need.  At this point it was extra stuff.  Their thinking, no doubt went something like this…I have extra and brother or sister so and so is in need.  I can sell this extra stuff and give the money, in this case, to the Apostles and they will know how to best care for those who are needy.
In the Greek and Roman world, two people of equal social and economic class would at times enter into a type of treaty with each other whereby they would commit themselves to share with each other.  Here, in this community of believers those who had gave to those who did not have.  So, the difference is that the love of Christ reaches past socio-economic classes.  Christ’s love transcends all human categories and places everyone on equal footing.  There are accounts of Christian slaves leading Bible studies where their Christian masters were in attendance.
All this is simply a shadow of how things will be when Christ returns and sets up His Kingdom.
Joseph was the model believer.  God had saved him and gave him a caring and encouraging heart.  So much so, that at some point the church renamed him, Barnabas.  Most believe his new name came at the time of his baptism.  Often men were given new names because they were now saved and living differently.  Barnabas was one such man.  Luke introduces us to Barnabas to show how we are to be.  We are to be giving and encouraging like he was.  I don’t think people like Barnabas can be overlooked in the early spread of the Gospel.
He was a Levite of the dispersion.  He was Jewish and a Levite.  He was given a heart of generosity and encouragement.  Who better to travel with the Apostles in and among other Jews to share and be a model for the Gospel?
Barnabas owned a field and he loved Christ and the church more than he loved his field, so, he sold it and took all the money and gave it to the Apostles to distribute as they saw fit, caring for the people within this new Christian community.
We’re not sure how Barnabas came to own this field because in the OT Levites were forbidden to own property.  Some think it may have come to him through his wife or because of the Dispersion, some Levitical laws had fallen into non-practice.  At any rate he saw in this field an opportunity to help others.
The church needs more folks like Barnabas, solid believers who not only believe sound doctrine, but also live out sound doctrine.
What produced this in his life and the life of those in the church?  I think we get a clue in the fact that the Apostles continued their bold proclamation of the Gospel and they were also performing sign and miracles to back up their message and those who believed were in awe of God.

43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

Barnabas and the others were the real thing.  They didn’t walk around parading as Christians but were Christians.  It was their changed hearts and the power of the Holy Spirit that caused them to live the way they did, caring for others more than themselves.  This change occurred through their salvation…they were given a new heart and the Holy Spirit.  Now the Apostle’s teaching made sense and they were in awe of God.

The Early Church experienced the power of the presence of God and was caught up in wonder and awe.
3.  Two Who Were Not in Awe of God
Acts 5:1-11 (ESV)
1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2 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.
3 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?
4 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.”
5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 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.”
10 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.
11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

For the first time since Judas’ defection, the church experiences internal conflict, which jeopardizes its unity and relationship with the Holy Spirit.[1]

They had met together and discussed how they could sell their property like some others were doing and rather than giving all the proceeds to the church they would secretly keep some for themselves.  Ananias and his wife were not filled with awe over the presence and power of God.  They thought they could fake it.  They desired others to think well of them as they also laid money at the Apostle’s feet.  In doing so, they were telling the community that they were giving it all.

What’s the problem here?  After all, I’m sure they gave a large portion of it.  The problem is not that they kept some.  Today, someone could sell something and give a portion to the church and keep some for themselves or a person could sell something and give it all.  The problem is that they lied and said that they were giving it all to the Apostles.
All the believers were in unity, they were caring for each other, they were powerfully preaching the Gospel, signs and wonders were wrought through the Apostles, the Holy Spirit was working wonders and power through this early church because they were in complete unity.  All of this produces wonder and awe and fear of God.
Here were two people who were not in awe and wonder of God.  They thought they could lie and no one would ever know the difference.  They thought little of God and they thought they would not get caught.  The danger here is that if this started, then God may not save, work miracles, or empower the Apostles to preach and teach.  Sin in the life of a church will always hinder or even stop the work of the Spirit.  These two people did not experience God correctly.  To them, He was a means to an end not the end itself.  This had to be stopped especially at the beginning of the Church’s influence in and among the world.
2 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.
3 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?

Literally, what Luke is saying is that the proceeds from the sale of the property had been dedicated to God.  So, by keeping back some of what was dedicated to God was stealing from God and lying about it.
I believe this is what is going on because Luke’s wording is very similar to the wording seen the account of Achan in Joshua 7 who had kept back for private use what was dedicated to God.  But the sin of Ananias and Saphira was even worse because the property belonged to them and when they sold it, they were not under any obligation to give anything to the Apostles and yet they did so under the pretense of deception, making themselves out to be more generous than he really were or even more generous (based on the value of the property) that the true believers who gave all of their proceeds, like Barnabas.

9 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.”
10 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.
Peter understood exactly what was going on.  These two were testing God.  This is extremely serous.  Just like those in the wilderness tested God time and again, God finally causing the whole generation to die in the desert.  The account of Achan in Joshua who stole what was forbidden, testing God and causing the death of many Israelites due to the fact that there was sin in the camp.  Now, there is sin in the camp again, and God will not put up with it.  Here, God sees the death of these two as the best thing for the church.  Sin, in this case, is judged immediately so that the work of the Spirit and the ministry of the Apostles could continue.

What happens to the church as a result of God’s judgment on these two?

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

God was so gracious to pass judgment so swiftly on these two unbelievers who were pretending to be Christians.  By acting this way, the church was restored and the Gospel continued, people were brought into the fold.

PC Refocused

The Early Church experienced the power of the presence of God and was caught up in wonder and awe.

Once again, the church was in awe of God as they saw His power to pass swift judgment.

Exhortation to Godliness

Where does this leave us?  I really think, on the one hand, we are a giving group.  Since this church has existed, I’ve seen many of you reach out and care for others.  I’ve seen you work in secret to care for others.  I’ve seen you rally the troops and help others.

On the other hand, the Early Church offers a model that cannot be attained unless God works and causes us to love Him way more than we love material goods.  So, my challenge is this:  Pray to God and see if there are any areas where your love for Him and those in the church could be better shown by your generosity.

God is working in amazing ways here.  I can see Him work as I watch how you live and care for others.  I can see your devotion to the Apostle’s teaching, to this fellowship, to small groups, and to prayer…and yet I also know more needs to be done.

Where can you improve?  Start now!

 

 

 

 


[1] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, pg. 208

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