The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
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[a] 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.
Last week’s post concerned the first part of this shocking episode: Ananias’s death, a sentence God carried out through Peter for deceiving Him and the Holy Spirit.
If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend doing so, because it concerns the sometimes fatal folly of humans trying to pull one over on the Holy Trinity. Not recommended. In the case of Ananias, it was his sin unto death: the last one before God decides to pull the plug on someone’s life in cases of egregious offence.
Acts 5:6 tells us that young men wrapped up Ananias’s body and carried it out — implying out of the city — for burial. Matthew Henry explains that they:
buried it decently, though he died in sin, and by an immediate stroke of divine vengeance.
Three hours later after the death of Ananias, Sapphira, his wife, walked in (verse 7). She did not know what happened nor that Peter, the Apostles and others present knew the two had consciously not given all the money from their property sale to the congregation. They kept some back for themselves.
Given those circumstances, both our commentators surmise that she thought she was in for a lot of love, given the donation. She was, in John MacArthur’s estimation:
expecting to get in on the laurels.
Henry tells us that all this took place at Solomon’s Porch of the temple in Jerusalem, because the next few verses took place there, the subject of next week’s entry about the signs and wonders done.
He thought that the original idea came from Sapphira herself:
perhaps … first in the transgression, and tempted her husband to eat this forbidden fruit.
Peter confronted her about the amount of money from the property sale. She agreed with what he said (verse 8) and, therefore, lied to him. He then asked her a question similar to the one he posed to Ananias (verse 9). How could the two of them have agreed to test the Holy Spirit? He then told her that the men who buried her husband were ready to take her body, too!
Henry explains the couple’s thought process (emphases mine):
Ananias and his wife agreed to tell the same story, and the bargain being private, and by consent kept to themselves, nobody could disprove them, and therefore they thought they might safely stand in the lie, and should gain credit to it. It is sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good harden one another in that which is evil …
That they agreed together to do it, making the bond of their relation to each other (which by the divine institution is a sacred tie) to become a bond of iniquity. It is hard to say which is worse between yoke-fellows and other relations–a discord in good or concord in evil.
Peter made sure that, before Sapphira breathed her last, she was aware of her sin — testing the Holy Spirit:
It seems to intimate that their agreeing together to do it was a further tempting of the Spirit; as if, when they had engaged to keep one another’s counsel in this matter, even the Spirit of the Lord himself could not discover them. Thus they digged deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, but were made to know it is in vain. “How is it that you are thus infatuated? What strange stupidity has seized you, that you would venture to make trial of that which is past dispute? How is it that you, who are baptized Christians, do not understand yourselves better? How durst you run so great a risk?”
Henry gives us examples from the Old Testament where people tested God:
That they tempted the Spirit of the Lord; as Israel tempted God in the desert, when they said, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? after they had seen so many miraculous proofs of his power; and not only his presence, but his presidency, when they said, Can God furnish a table? So here, “Can the Spirit in the apostles discover this fraud? Can they discern that this is but a part of the price, when we tell them it is the whole?” Can he judge through this dark cloud? Job 22:13. They saw that the apostles had the gift of tongues; but had they the gift of discerning spirits? Those that presume upon security and impunity in sin tempt the Spirit of God; they tempt God as if he were altogether such a one as themselves.
As soon as Peter made Sapphira aware of her sin, she dropped dead at his feet (verse 10). It could be a combination of being found out and the sudden knowledge that her husband dropped dead was too much for her. All this, in Henry’s words:
struck her as a thunderbolt and took her away as with a whirlwind.
The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter, giving him the discernment, the right words to say and the most effective delivery.
Henry advises us not to consider every sudden death as being divine punishment:
We must not think that all who die suddenly are sinners above others; perhaps it is in favour to them, that they have a quick passage: however, it is forewarning to all to be always ready. But here it is plain that it was in judgment.
He also does not think they were eternally saved, either:
Some put the question concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think that the destruction of the flesh was that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And I should go in with that charitable opinion if there had been any space given them to repent, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian. But secret things belong not to us. It is said, She fell down at Peter’s feet; there, where she should have laid the whole price and did not, she was herself laid, as it were to make up the deficiency.
The young men, having just returned, came in to remove her body to bury it beside her husband’s. Henry points out:
it is not said, They wound her up, as they did Ananias, but, They carried her out as she was, and buried her by her husband; and probably an inscription was set over their graves, intimating that they were joint-monuments of divine wrath against those that lie to the Holy Ghost.
Not surprisingly, those who learned of these deaths from attempting to deceive God and the Holy Spirit were struck with ‘great fear’ (verse 11).
This whole event really should be in the three-year Lectionary. If it scares people — the clergy’s great and near-universal fear — so much the better!
We in the West have such a blessing of creature comforts that we have forgotten the wrath of God! Woe betide us!
Oh, there are lessons here, what are they? God hates sin. Especially sins in Christians’ lives. Second, God punishes sin. I Peter 4:17, says Judgement must begin at the house of God. And if God cares about the sins of the saints that much and punishes them that stringently, I say to you who are unbelievers, beware of the judgement of God upon you. And so we see lessons, powerful, speaking to our hearts.
Some will wonder whether the Apostles kept the money that Ananias brought them. Henry thought so:
I am apt to think they did … What they brought was not polluted to those to whom they brought it; but what they kept back was polluted to those that kept it back.
The tone of Acts 5 changes in the verses that follow and we return to the glorious wonders that the Holy Spirit made possible in the earliest days of the Apostolic Era.
Next time: Acts 5:12-16