Imagine you walk into your local congregation of believers next Sunday. As always, you sing a couple of hymns or contemporary worship songs (depending on the culture of your church) and then the offering plate gets passed around. The guitarist (or organist) is playing a lovely tune when all of a sudden the music crashes to a stop. One of the pastors is standing up on stage pointing a finger into the audience.
“You!” All eyes in the congregation follow the pastor’s gaze until coming to rest on a middle-aged man holding the offering plate a few rows back. He stands absolutely still next to his wife as if frozen in time, his hand still grasping the plate full of envelopes. Both of their eyes are wide with fear.
“Why on earth have you decided to test the Holy Spirit this morning?” The pastor continues with a growing authority in his voice. Most of the congregation at this point is confused, but interested (nothing this juicy or exciting has happened in one of their worship service for some time).
“Do you not know that by lying to your fellow brethren you lie to the living God?” After hearing these words the man and woman begin to clutch their chests, and then immediately fall forward. The offering plate comes crashing to the floor and something rolls out into the aisle. The couple lays draped across the chairs in front of them, as lifeless as stones. As the deacons begin to move the bodies outside, the pastor walks over to the small bundle of cash laying in the middle of the aisle. It appears to be a roll of 15 to 20 hundred dollar bills. However, when he takes the rubber band off the cash, it becomes obvious that only the top bill was a hundred, and the rest were just ones. He then walks back up on stage.
“Alright everyone, if you would open up your Bibles to the book of Luke, we will continue our sermon series on mercy.” The congregations stands with their mouths wide open and their knees slightly shaking.
In Act chapter 5 we have the 1st century version of this story. Ananias and Sapphira decide to lie to the Church in the hopes of looking like heroes. However, according to Peter, the Church is supposed to be God’s covenant people on earth- a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.[1] There is no room for lying. The Lord has an extremely high standard for His people. When individuals claiming to be a part of God’s people act in a sinful manner, such as deceiving the Church by secretly withholding some of their profits, God takes drastic steps to purge the unholiness from among His flock. This is a pattern we see throughout all of Scripture, not just here in Acts.[2]
But stories like this bother us. Why? Because we know that many of us have done far worse than Ananias and Sapphira.

Because we know that many of us have done far worse than Ananias and Sapphira.
Consider the account in 2 Samuel 6 where Uzzah is struck down by God simply for steadying the Ark of the Covenant as it began to fall. I’m sure we can all think of moments where we have acted more heinously than poor Uzzah. For this reason, passages like these make us a little bit angry with God. We ask Him, “Where is your mercy? Where is your grace? Are you really even that great of a God?”
Obviously, this is not the appropriate response to these passages. So what are we supposed to feel after reading these stories? I think that the Church in Acts (as well as the church in our little anecdote) got it right.
“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:11)
Fear is the response of the early Church to these events. And yet, just a few lines later, we see that “more than ever believers were being added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Isn’t that strange? Here is a movement in which its leader (God) is striking down those that do not live up to His standard, and people are flocking to it![3] I think this was because the Jews were already convinced of God’s dangerously holy nature. Rather than being turned off by a good smiting they are instead convinced that this is truly from the Lord. The law teaches that YHWH is a consuming fire.[4] But what does that really mean?
You see, being a consuming fire doesn’t mean that God is just really passionate, or that His love warms our hearts, or that God lights our path for us. God is described in Deuteronomy chapter 4 as a consuming fire in the context of His jealousy. YHWH absolutely hates idolatry, and therefore He will do whatever it takes to rid His people of it. His holy nature will destroy any sin found within His presence.[5] So if the Church has become God’s Covenant people on earth, and if we truly believe the Spirit of the Lord dwells among us, we better be sure to conform to His will. Whereas the enemy of God is destroyed by His fire, the saint is purified by it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt.
More to come.
-E
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[1] See 1 Peter 2:9 and Exodus 19:6.
[2] For more specific passages related to this story in Acts, see Joshua 7, Leviticus 10, 1 Corinthians 11:30. This same theme of God purifying His people also runs throughout all of Scripture, especially Deuteronomy and the prophets.
[3] Granted, the healings and exorcisms being performed by the apostles would surely give some positive publicity. Nevertheless, the smiting of Ananias and Sapphira still must have been fresh on people’s minds.
[4] See Deuteronomy 4:24. Also see Hebrews 12:28-29 for the Preacher’s reiteration of this truth.
[5] This is why the high priest had to go to such pains to make sure he was pure before going into the presence of God (the Holy of Holies).

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