1Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property. 2But they agreed to cheat and keep some of the money for themselves.
So when Ananias took the rest of the money to the apostles, 3Peter said, “Why has Satan made you keep back some of the money from the sale of the property? Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit? 4The property was yours before you sold it, and even after you sold it, the money was still yours. What made you do such a thing? You didn't lie to people. You lied to God!”
5 As soon as Ananias heard this, he dropped dead, and everyone who heard about it was frightened. 6Some young men came in and wrapped up his body. Then they took it out and buried it.
7Three hours later Sapphira came in, but she did not know what had happened to her husband. 8Peter asked her, “Tell me, did you sell the property for this amount?”
“Yes,” she answered, “that's the amount.”
9Then Peter said, “Why did the two of you agree to test the Lord's Spirit? The men who buried Ananias are by the door, and they will carry you out!” 10At once she fell at Peter's feet and died.
When the young men came back in, they found Sapphira lying there dead. So they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11The church members were afraid, and so was everyone else who heard what had happened.
On the Day of Pentecost God’s Spirit began renovating the human heart and restoring human society. God was creating a new covenant community with Jesus in the centre and God’s love radiating outward in all directions. As Charles Moore writes, the first Christians didn’t just invite Jesus into their hearts and begin attending church in Jerusalem. “No, they declared and defined their allegiance to the Kingdom by joining themselves with God’s new society – with those whose lives were marked by an altogether different way of living where heart, soul, house, and property were shared.”
Against this backdrop, Luke tells us the disturbing story of Ananias and Sapphira. Like many others, they sold property to help those in the church who were destitute. But unlike others they held back part of the money with deceit and experienced swift and severe judgment.
I often associate God’s fierce judgment with Old Testament stories like Uzzah and the Lord’s ark (2 Samuel 6) or Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). But here we see it in Luke’s account of the New Testament church. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright explains that Luke’s original audience would understand something we likely miss in our day. The focal point of God’s powerful – and sometimes dangerous – presence was now shifting from the Jerusalem temple to the gathered people of God.
The new temple where God dwelt was within the growing Christian community (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). They were to reflect God’s holiness and justice to the world without blemish. God was at work to heal and do wonders – and begin the process of righting wrongs and ending injustice that had dominated the world for too long. We may wish and pray for more mercy and patience on God’s part, but Luke warns that God will not be mocked.
Holy and loving God, continue your purifying work in my life. Conform me to the image of Christ. Convert my desires and increase my appetite for you and your ways in all things. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.