By Evan Pyle


Have you ever heard the saying, "whistling past a graveyard"? It describes the tendency to avoid a thing that makes us uncomfortable or afraid. The account of Ananias and Sapphira is a Biblical account I've always tiptoed past, hoping nobody would notice. Lately I revisited this story, asking the Lord to enlighten me and show me why he wanted it included in the Holy Scriptures, which are able to "make us wise unto salvation."

The early Church was in a period of remarkable growth in Jerusalem, where it had begun on Pentecost not long before (Acts 2:1-47). Already, the apostles were experiencing opposition from religious leaders. Rather than cower in fear, these brave Christians prayed for more boldness to speak the gospel and, by God's grace, reach out to heal and do signs in Jesus' name (Acts 4:23-30). They gained strength by their fellowship with one another and single-minded devotion to Christ. This devotion was so great that none of them viewed their possessions as their own, but as blessings to be used for the cause of Christ.

Acts 4:32-37:
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

This was the setting of the scene onto which Ananias and Sapphira were about to appear. After the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the power of the gospel to change lives was powerfully evident in Jerusalem. Miracles, signs and wonders gave witness to the power of Christ to heal, forgive and save lives. In the face of strong opposition from their religious leaders, the community of believers drew ever closer together in fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. They shared their earthly goods selflessly with one another. They enjoyed a pure and close fellowship not seen elsewhere. Seeing this, Ananias hatched a seemingly innocent scheme:

Acts 5:1-11:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

Have you puzzled over what happened to Ananias and Sapphira as I have? One can easily guess that their motive for this lie was to gain recognition and admiration for their deed. But the penalty seems harsh for the offense. And it worries me, because I am sure I have attempted to lie to God on occasion. Why did this couple die and I did not? The answer to this puzzle not only sheds light on what happened that day in the history of the early Church, but also on how we should conduct ourselves in the Church, which is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

That the Holy Spirit is telling us something important in this account is evident from the results that followed. Signs and wonders were manifested by the apostles, and multitudes of believers were added to the Lord.

Acts 5:12-14:
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.
13 And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)

The reason that the rest of the people (the unsaved) didn't dare join themselves to the believers was because of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. Great fear fell on all those that heard these things. They knew that something very powerful was happening among the followers of Jesus and that being a nominal believer or faking it was dangerous. A deep reverence for the things of God extended beyond the Church to the unsaved. This happens when the Church walks in unity, purity and power. One would think that this kind of fear would hamper the Church from reaching others with the Gospel. To the contrary, the people magnified the Christians, and multitudes were added to the Church.

This reminds me of an incident with the Ark of the Covenant. It had fallen into enemy hands. The Philistines that kept the Ark were plagued with awful maladies that tormented their bodies. These ungodly men developed enough respect for the power and presence of God represented by the Ark that they respectfully and carefully returned it to Israel along with precious gifts. While it languished for a time at the property of an ordinary Jewish farmer, all that he had was blessed and flourished. When David decided it was time to move the Ark to Jerusalem, it was no light matter, for the ark was the place of God's presence. The Ark was placed upon a new oxcart and an elaborate procession went before the ark to lead the way. Then a puzzling thing happened:

2 Samuel 6:6-7:
And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

God's holy presence is no light thing that it should be taken casually. When Moses encountered the Lord in the burning bush, the angel said, "draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Ex. 3:5). When Moses asked God to show him his glory, the Lord said, "thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Ex. 33:20). When Moses came down from the holy mountain his face shone with the reflected glory of God. This glory was so great that the children of Israel could not look him in the face. They placed a veil over his face just so they could hear him speak. Their sin-darkened hearts could not stand the brightness of God's holiness manifest before them. Indeed, they were afraid to face God and needed the veil to blunt the intensity of God's holy presence. God's glorious presence is no less manifest in the Church than it was to Israel that day. Indeed, it is even more glorious.

2 Corinthians 3:7-9:
But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

When the children of Israel entered the land of Promise, the Lord was very specific that they were to be an holy people unto him. They were not to marry the ungodly, nor worship their gods, but were to keep themselves pure from the pollution of sin that surrounded them. Despite specific instructions concerning the contents of Jericho, one man disobeyed. His sin polluted the house of Israel. "And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel" (Josh. 7:15). This incident is a picture of the holiness God desires for his Church.

In Tanzania, we were told that if a Maasai warrior turns his back to an enemy in battle, the warrior must be killed. Of course, we thought this was a harsh penalty. When asked why, our friend told us that by retreating, the warrior had exposed the village to the danger he was battling. For this, he must die. Similarly, God desires a pure, undefiled and holy Church, for this is where his holy presence now lives.

When Jesus suffered and died upon the cross of Calvary, he uttered those glorious words, "It is finished," and he died. When he died, the veil of the Temple was torn apart from top to bottom. With this dramatic miracle, he once and for all opened the way for all who believe to enter the holiest place of his presence. Yet we are sinful people and to enter his presence we must be holy. "Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16). Without the power of the Holy Spirit we are powerless to produce holiness. We are left our own efforts to do the right things, loving things, "holy" things. Many wonderful people come from this place, but until the Holy Spirit effects the change, the veil is still on their hearts and they are unable to view God's glory full face.

2 Corinthians 3:14-18:
But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.
15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

There was a time when, as a result of Israel's stubborn disobedience, the presence of God was removed from the Temple in Jerusalem. Eventually, the Temple itself was completely destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. These events were bisected by the dramatic parting of the veil at the time of Jesus' sacrifice. Indeed, the Temple became irrelevant because God's holy presence no longer dwelled there. In fact, God's presence now dwells with and in the Church. God does not dwell in temples made by men's hands but in the great Temple that is built up by Jesus himself. ("And upon this rock I will build my church" [Matt. 16:18].) I fear that we, as the Church, have taken God's presence too lightly. In mixing the worldly with our worship we think that we will be more appealing to the unsaved. But in doing so, we trifle with God's holy presence. Let us be purified by the hope that is in Christ (1 Jn. 3:3). A sanctified and cleansed Church will walk in great power and do the work God ordained for her. When the Church walks this way, it makes no accommodation to the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. It is in the world, but not of the world. This is how the Church was walking at the time of Ananias and Sapphira. I pray we can take this powerful lesson and let it be for us a strong motivation to walk unreservedly for Christ.

Ephesians 5:25-27:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.



From the May 2005 issue of The Vine & Branches