Based on Acts chapter 4 verses 32 to 37 & chapter 5 verse 1 to 16
The thing about praying is that God answers your prayers - and the new church in Jerusalem had just prayed for great boldness when speaking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. They had also asked for healing power and for signs and wonders to be done in the name of Jesus. And, in answer to that prayer and as confirmation that the Lord had heard and would give them what they’d asked for, the building they were in was shaken. As that happened, once again, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out preaching about Jesus with great boldness.
They also found that they were one in heart and mind – they belonged to each other as brothers and sisters. No one felt that what they owned was theirs alone, but was to be shared by everyone in the church as needed. This meant that, at times, some in the church would sell houses or land and bring the proceeds from that sale to the apostles so that they could distribute it as required, with the result that there were no needy people in the church.
An example of this was a man known as Barnabas. His real name was Joseph and he was from the tribe of Israel called the Levites who helped in the Temple, although his family was actually from Cyprus! He was known as Barnabas because it means ‘son of encouragement’ and that seemed to sum up who he was – so the nickname had stuck! One day Barnabas sold some land he owned, probably back in Cyprus and, when the money arrived, he brought it to the apostles and laid it at their feet to indicate that he was happy for them to use it in any way they saw fit.
However, when the enemy of the church, the devil, saw what Barnabas and many others were doing, he saw an opportunity to destroy the church, to make it rotten from the inside out and he looked for – and found – a couple in the church who he could use for his wicked purposes.
The idea was simple, destroy the church by destroying its integrity. Make one person a liar and the whole testimony of the church would be rubbished, with conflict and mayhem following in its wake.
The enemy prepared his attack well by playing on the pride and vanity of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. They had watched as people like Barnabas had brought the money from the sale of land and houses to the apostles. No doubt the devil had encouraged them to feel envious of the way Barnabas was thanked, trying to make them believe that there was some kind of spiritual elite they could be part of. He must have reminded them that they also had some land they could sell and, just as they were about to sell the land so that they could look good in the eyes of people, the devil must have caused them to doubt the faithfulness of God. After all, selling a piece of land and giving the money away was a big thing to do – you couldn’t just get it back later! So the devil encouraged them to come up with a plan that would give them the best of both worlds: the security of a nice little hidden nest-egg from the sale of the land, while at the same time appearing to be one of the supposed spiritual elite by their giving. All they had to do was tell the apostles their plan to sell the piece of land, but not tell them the truth about the actual price they were going to get for it. It seemed such a small lie. They were going to give MOST of the money away and only keep back SOME for themselves. No one else need know except them. The buyer wasn’t part of the church and so they felt their secret would be safe.
When the transaction was completed, the day arrived when Ananias brought the money to the apostles. He brought most of what the land had actually sold for - and the exact amount he’d told the apostles it had sold for! So, walking up to Peter, knowing that all eyes were on him, Ananias swelled with pride. He was part of the elite now, they would look up to him after such sacrificial giving. No doubt with a pious and holy expression on his face, he placed the money at Peter’s feet. But that’s when it all went wrong, for you can hide nothing from God!
‘Ananias,’ asked Peter, ‘why have you let Satan fill your heart? You’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and kept back some of the money you got from selling the land for yourself!’
This was not going the way Ananias had expected. His holy expression dropped and a look of horror and shame fell across his face.
Then Peter continued, ‘The property was yours before you sold it – you didn’t have to sell it. And, after you’d sold it, didn’t the money from the sale belong to you to do whatever you wanted with it? How could you do something like this? Don’t you realise that you aren’t lying to us, but to God?’
No sooner had Peter stopped speaking than Ananias fell to the floor and died. (P) As you can imagine, everyone who heard what had happened was terrified! Some of the young men quickly wrapped up his body in a sheet and took it out to bury.
Satan’s plan was failing - and worse, the exact opposite to his intention was happening. Instead of others becoming hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another, everyone realised that God was watching them and they needed to be careful to continue to please and honour Him, knowing that you can’t hide ANYTHING from God.
About three hours later, Sapphira, Ananias’ wife, arrived, not knowing what’d happened to her husband. No doubt she too was excited about how holy the others would think she was and was eager to accept thanks from those they’d helped. But, instead of the smiles and gratitude she’d expected, she found herself face to face with Peter while the others looked on, serious expressions etched on their faces.
‘Tell me, Sapphira,’ Peter asked straight away, showing her the money he’d received from her husband, ‘was this the price you and your husband received for your land?’
Although alarm bells were ringing in her head, her course of action had been set in stone when she’d agreed with her husband to lie to the apostles about the full figure they’d got for the land. To change her story now was to drop herself and her husband into very hot water and so the lie continued. ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘that is the price we got for the land.’
Peter’s heart must have been breaking as he heard Sapphira’s reply. The Lord Himself had revealed to him that it wasn’t true - that this was an attempt by the devil to get in and corrupt the church. And then the Lord also revealed to Peter what would happen next. Looking Sapphira in the eye, he shook his head and said, ‘How could the two of you even think of plotting together to test the Spirit of the Lord like this?’ Then, with a deep sigh he added, ‘The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will also carry you out and bury you.’
At that moment, Sapphira fell to the floor and died, just as her husband had done. Then, as Peter had said, the young men who’d buried her husband came back through the door and found her dead body. They picked her up and buried her beside her husband.
Such fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard about these things. The devil’s plans had failed and, instead of weakening the church, had strengthened it in line with the prayer they’d prayed. They’d asked for boldness, healings and signs and wonders – maybe not realising that ‘wonders’ could come in many different ways. And, these ‘wonders’ caused the church to stay pure.
The apostles performed many more miraculous signs and wonders in addition to what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. The church, growing at a tremendous rate, met regularly at the Temple in an area know as ‘Solomon's Colonnade’. No one else dared to disturb or join them there, no doubt mindful of what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. But even so, in answer to their prayer, more and more people believed what the apostles boldly preached about Jesus and were brought to the Lord – crowds of them, both men and women.
In fact, as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit through the apostles, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across them as he passed by. It wasn’t superstition, but an acknowledgement that God was powerfully at work through His people. Of course, this kind of news couldn’t stay hidden and spread to the villages around Jerusalem so that many people were brought from the villages who were sick or demon possessed and every one of them was healed!