|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
So far in our study of the early church recorded in the book of Acts, everything has been going fairly well. With signs and wonders, and with much power, the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ. But now, when we come to chapter 5 of Acts, we see the church turning a corner.
Now we start seeing the early church facing problems and dangers. The first problem is within the church itself. A husband and wife have joined the church in order to enjoy the benefits and blessings it offered, but they were not genuinely converted. They gave the impression that they were truly followers of the way but, in reality, they were pretenders. Acts 5:1-6:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With this wifes full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostless feet.
Then Peter said, Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didnt it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasnt the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
After a while, Ananias wife comes to Peter and does the same thing as her husband did earlier: lie to Peter that what they gave to the church was the full amount that they had sold the land for. The same thing that happened to her husband now happens to her. Acts 5:7-11:
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?
Yes, she said, that is the price.
Peter said to her, How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.
What is this account telling us? Why was God so severe in punishing this couple for what we would consider a small sin? And why do we not see such severity displayed in Gods church today? All these are important questions that cannot be left unanswered. Let us begin by what this account tells us. Clearly, God will not tolerate pretenders in His church.
Unlike the communist world, there is no compulsion in Gods church. Peter made it clear to Ananias and his wife Sapphira that no one forced them to sell any of their land, and, furthermore, no one forced them to give any of the money they got for the land they sold to the church. Their sin was in pretending to give all that they sold to the church, just as the others were doing. However, they could not lie to God. They had a heart problem and God exposed this sin through Peter.
But why was God so severe in punishing them in the way He did? Surely, they had not committed such a gross sin as to deserve death. Certainly, this thing happens all the time in the church today, especially when it comes to tithe-paying. Yet we do not see such severity being exercised by God today. Has God changed?
NO! The Bible makes it clear, God does not change. Malachi 3:6-7:
I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.
But, in His Word, He does give clear examples to His people what He does not tolerate. That is why He has recorded in His Book some of the terrible things that have happened to people who do not comply with His will. When the Egyptians or Canaanites, for example, deliberately and ultimately rejected Him, even after giving them clear evidence that there is no other God then Himself, they were choosing death in preference to life. Genesis 15:13-16:
Then the Lord said to [Abram], Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved for mistreated 400 years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.
Likewise, when the Jews of the exodus repeatedly committed the sin of unbelief, in spite of all the miraculous signs God gave them, they died in the wilderness. And when the leaders of Judaism rejected Christ after the resurrection, the clearest proof God gave them that Christ was the Messiah, their house was left to them desolate. Matthew 23:37-39:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
These incidents, along with the one recorded in Acts 5:1-11, are recorded for our benefit and are a warning from God that He does not treat sin lightly, even the smallest sin.
Yes, God sympathizes with our struggles as Christians, because of our sinful natures. But when we, from the heart, do not surrender to His will and pretend to be what we are not from the heart, then watch out. We are on Satans ground because He is a liar from the beginning. John 8:42-44:
Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your fathers desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
In dealing with the problems the church at Corinth was facing, since many of them were pretenders and not truly converted, note what the apostle Paul reminded them of. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and go up to indulge in pagan revelry. We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did and in one day 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you dont fall!
Once again, please notice that the problem with the Jews of the exodus was a heart problem and this is the very thing Paul is warning the Corinthian believers of.
Going back to Acts 5, we now see another danger the early church faced as the apostles, with signs and wonders, proclaim the gospel message to the Jews of their day the opposition from the Sanhedrin or the leadership of Judaism. Here were men who claimed to be the leaders of Gods people and yet note how they reacted to the message of the gospel. Listen to this incredible account. Acts 5:12-28:
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomons Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a reuslt, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peters shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. Go, stand in the temple courts, he said, and tell the people the full message of this new life.
At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin the full assembly of the elders of Israel and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside. On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.
Then someone came and said, Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people. At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, he said. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this mans blood.
Amazing!!! You would think that by now, with all the evidence before them, that Christ was very much alive in there midst through His body, the church, the brethren of Judaism would see the light and confess in repentance the great sin of crucifying their Messiah. They were witnessing what Jesus said would happen in John 14:12:
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Instead, they were determined to put the light out. But note how Peter and the other apostles responded to the demands of the Sanhedrin. Acts 5:29-33:
Peter and the other apostles replied: We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
Why was the Sanhedrin so furious at what the apostles said, even to the point of killing them? The answer is in what they said in verse 30:
The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.
This was the sore point that they could not handle: the fact that Christ rose from the dead in spite of the fact that He was killed by hanging on a tree. The leaders of the Jews wanted to kill Jesus because he had blasphemed by claiming to be God. John 19:5-7:
When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, Here is the man!
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, Crucify! Crucify!
But Pilate answered, You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.
The Jews insisted, We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.
They also knew that someone who blasphemed was to be stoned to death, not crucified. Leviticus 24:16:
...Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.
But they wanted him crucified, or hung on a tree, because this meant Jesus would be under Gods curse, meaning he would be dead forever. Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
If a man guilty of capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under Gods curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Since God had raised Jesus from the dead, that meant Jesus hadnt been cursed by God. That meant He hadnt blasphemed. That meant that He was who He said He was. Having this pointed out to them infuriated the Sanhedrin.
But here is where God stepped in. Among the Sanhedrin was a man who was highly respected and whom God used to turn the tables. Here were the apostles, confronted with the same group that had just crucified their Lord, threatened by the same hostility that accomplished the death of Jesus. Their lives were at stake. But the man who was Pauls professor stands up; listen to what he says and how the Sanhedrin responded. Acts 5:34-40:
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
These were surely words of wisdom. What Gamaliel was really saying is that the truth of God will triumph, no matter how much you try to squash it. Behind all the opposition the gospel message faces is Satan, the enemy of souls. He knows that there is one power that has defeated him and his cause. That is the power of the gospel.
All through the history of the Christian church, he has tried to destroy or pervert in the minds of Christians the truth as it is in Christ. And even though, at times, he seems to be having success, eventually the gospel truth always triumphed. Revelation 12:10-17:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpents reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring those who obey Gods commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
In concluding, I would like you to note how the apostles reacted to this whole experience, regarding the opposition they received from the Sanhedrin. This is the same reaction we should follow when our witnessing is opposed, inside or outside the church. Acts 5:41-42:
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
The church is an extension of Christ and, therefore, we must be willing to suffer the offense of the cross. Galatians 5:11:
Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? ...
2 Timothy 1:8-10:
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.